My interactions with houseless folks have been consistently friendly heart-warming ones. My stereotype and ideas of the houseless people of Portland and of the US for that matter have been 180’d. There are several demographics outside of middle aged males suffering in the streets – there is a youth group jumping from foster home to foster home, single mothers, males around the ages 25-40 and transgender folks who can be some of the most vulnerable in these situations. There absolutely are more demographics outside of the one’s listed above but these are the ones I have been fortunate enough to learn about and now experience a new empathy towards. This whole trip for me I see as a chance to serve a community that needs it while I have lived an incredibly privileged and easy life. Now I see first-hand more than ever just how privileged I am and just how badly people need the lucky ones to give back.
While at P:EAR, the man we spoke with gave a summary of the trauma so many youth go through just in Portland alone while suffering from houselessness. These kids have been thrown in and kicked out of numerous foster homes and abused, whether that be verbally or physically to the point that living in the streets is the better option. Along with this, I now understood how drugs sneak their way into these vulnerable young adults’ lives, something I always assumed was a choice turned into a bad addiction. In order to keep their belongings, avoid being raped, stabbed, mugged and much more, we heard that meth becomes a “great” option to actually keep themselves safe from any of those unfortunate common occurrences on the street. It keeps one alert and awake through the night to avoid being taken advantage of and it is sometimes an appealing option while surviving on the streets. I came to find out that perhaps nobody wants to use meth, but they have to, just to survive. Addiction paired with houselessness is a nasty storm; drugs and alcohol are a coping mechanism for the pain, suffering and trauma. Like using meth, addiction is not usually caused by a free willed choice as I once thought.
Before this immersion I had a soft spot for houseless folks in that I felt bad that they perhaps had made bad choices along the way or gotten caught up in the wrong crowd. Rather than being a result of bad choices, the main takeaway from this experience is that not having a home often stems from being born into an unfortunate living situation whether that is to parents who suffer from addiction initially, kids who find themselves caught up in the foster care system, or kids who are systematically discriminated against for their race. These all can lead to houselessness followed by addiction and long term living on the streets. I have gained a lot of knowledge and now feel a stronger need to help this community and be of service after understanding these folk’s realities.