Among the homeless in Gresham, there is fear.
The official statement in Gresham is that homelessness does not exist in their town. This is the statement of the mayor and the police. However, there is at least a hundred chronically homeless folks in the city of Gresham, a suburb of Portland, OR. Yet the homeless that are there, for the most part, have been raised in Gresham, and the town in their permanent residence, so to speak.
The police have done what they can to force the homeless to move out of town, to make the official statement to be true. They regularly force people out of their camps, even throwing away their tents and blankets and sleeping bags. They regularly check on people who look homeless, whether they are or not. In the past, they have waited for the homeless outside of churches where the street folks worshipped in order to pick up anyone who happened to have a warrant. This practice was stopped because of the concern of middle class citizens who express their dismay at that practice. The police also attempted to deny some homeless folks access to the library because they were camping on public property. This attempt was thwarted by a Multnomah County judge.
But more than this, some people have been targeted with brutality. Mitch, a gentle, quiet homeless man, was attacked by a police dog and so was walking with a limp for the rest of his life. Another couple was recently beaten senseless by the police. The homeless are regularly threatened. I, myself, was last year threatened with arrest because I was a witness to the verbal abuse they poured upon innocent people.
The problem, as I see it, is not one that can be rectified by judges or by taking each situation as it comes.
The city that denies the existence of homelessness is only one issue. In Portland, public bathrooms are closed so that the homeless have no place to use the toilet. This is a basic human necessity, yet it is denied to one segment of the population. We all need to have sleep in order to live and to function appropriately, but the homeless are denied the right to sleep because they cannot establish a place themselves. If they get a place to sleep then they know that they will be rousted out of their sleep one of these nights and told to move on. It is a basic necessity of life to eat, and yet some cities are denying even churches an opportunity to feed street people. It is a basic necessity of life to have shelter from the cold, yet every neighborhood wants to deny any place for the homeless to congregate indoors.
Ultimately, all this is based on one issue: the denial of street people’s humanity.
Everyone in all segments of society would agree that street people ARE people. Yet societal forces are denying their humanity, taking away their ability to function as physical beings. They are being denied the very survival necessities that would be considered abuse to any animal—denying sleep, a place to go to the bathroom, a place out of dangerous weather, and food. It is not that there are not resources available for the homeless to have these human necessities met, it is that society is denying their humanity to grant them access to these resources.
My main question is, what can be done? How can we communicate to a society that denies our humanity, our very existence? Is there a peaceful means to establish the re-humanization of the homeless? Does anyone have any ideas?
What would you do if you were here in Gresham, living among the oppressed?