Michael Votta and his partner, Andie, were everything to one another. Both mentally ill, they were lovers, best friends and survivors of a lifetime of abuse. They looked out for each other on the streets. It was a beautiful love affair to witness in a world gone wrong.
Tragically, Michael died homeless and alone on the streets, without his dear Andie. On most days, I see Andie in Old Town wandering the streets, also homeless and alone.
Sometimes she’s there mentally, but oftentimes she is not. She always seems to find the space to say hello to me, regardless of if she’s having a bad day. I do my best to give her time and offer her a smile and hello in return. She both haunts me and inspires me. In her eyes, I see the ghosts of not only Michael and herself, but the dozens of people I’ve had relationships with that have died on the streets. She inspires me because she’s still going and has refused to give up. I fear that Andie, like many others will die an untimely death on the streets w no one by their side.
Now I have worked on the streets for 15 long years, which seems like a lifetime. The trauma I carry along with the fight has consumed me at times. But in the end, like Andie I will never give up hope – hope that we as a community can give people a safe place to call home.
Think about this.
Every night an estimated 4,400 Portlanders sleep outside or in our shelters. Increasingly these are families, people of color, people with disabilities and seniors.
Today in Portland, accessing a shelter can take two to eight months, while waiting for permanent affordable housing requires one to three years.
Last year, average monthly rents increased by $128 citywide. Portland is one of the most expensive rental markets in the nation. The average rent in this city is nearly $1,800.
There are 61 percent more Oregon seniors living in poverty today than just a decade ago. Between 2013 and 2015, there was a 23 percent increase in the number of people aged 55 and older that were homeless.
According to the last Point-In-Time count, 374 children in Multnomah County were unsheltered, sleeping in emergency shelters, or in transitional housing. Nearly all were in families, and a growing percentage were in families sleeping outside or in their car.
And 57 percent of people experiencing homelessness have a disability.
More than 50 individuals die on our streets every year.
The reality is there are a lot of reasons why you should vote Yes for Affordable Homes on your ballot this election cycle. None more so than Andie, who deserves to come inside from the wilderness. Let’s bring 3,000 Portlanders home! Vote yes for affordable homes on your ballot.
Israel Bayer is the executive director of Street Roots. You can reach him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @israelbayer.