PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – Many people live in the SE 94th and Pardee area, not far from Lents Park in Portland. Some live in houses. Some live in tents.
Fernando is one of those living in tents and tarps along this stretch. The night before KOIN 6 News came to the area, Fernando was burning a candle for warmth. His tent caught fire. He and his girlfriend narrowly escaped.
“I woke up with smoke,” Fernando said. “I just started putting out the fire, trying to catch my breath and get my girlfriend out.”
But the fire consumed everything. “There is nothing more to get. It’s trash now. He even lost the birthday present he bought for his daughter.
Todd Littlefield lives right across from where Fernando’s tent caught fire. Tent fires, he said, “happen all the time, once a week. And they’re brutal fires. They’re scary.
Littlefield said his neighbor had several close calls.
“She’s had half a dozen fires right next to her house and if they weren’t there to put them out in the middle of the night, their house would have been on fire,” he said.
About a month ago, the teams came on site for a complete cleaning. Within days the tents, tarps and homeless, piles of trash, needles and trash came back.
During months, Will and Ashley lived in a broken down trailer on the street. They don’t like living in garbage or what people think of when they see garbage.
“Like, ‘Oh, you’re homeless. So you’re dirty, homeless,’” Will said. “You know what I’m saying? Like, or, ‘You suck because your neighbor sucks.’ Really, I feel a lot for the owners because as an owner – and I have kids – I wouldn’t want to come here and see all of this.
Neighborhoods become eyesores and health hazards, homeless people driven out by a cleanup only to come back again – this is the endless cycle seen across the city. You can either blame city and county leaders for the lack of an urgent and effective homeless plan, or be part of the solution – and solve the problem with simple acts of decency and kindness.
Showers and haircuts
Sandra Fairbank is part of Cultivate initiative, a relatively new non-profit organization in the region. Every Monday, their shower truck sets up shop in Lents Park and offers homeless people a place to clean up.
“Anyone who needs a shower, we give them a shower,” Fairbank told KOIN 6 News. “The shower truck is what saved my life, actually. I was homeless for 7 years and didn’t take my first shower about a year after being homeless.
They also have the ability to do something we take for granted: bathe.
“Once they come in, we offer them clothes if they need a clean set of clothes. Once there, they go to the sign-up sheet. Once they’re ready we’ll call their names and they’ll go in the truck and get their toiletries, they’ll get a towel and a washcloth and they’ll go into their shower and shower.
Fairbank said she understands the importance of a shower.
“Like I said, I was homeless for 7 years, so being able to show them that on the street is huge for me,” she said.
The weekly gathering in Lents Park is called a welfare fair, held a stone’s throw from SE 94th and Pardee – where homeless services are desperately needed. Besides showers, there is also food, neighborhood help, a chance to get COVID shots and haircuts.
Kristle Delihanty is with PDX Saints Love.
“We don’t have a building and we chose this for a reason,” Delihanty said. “Our idea is to come to exactly where people are in the crisis they’re facing and the trauma, and let them know we’re there.”
PDX Saints Love also helps those who have no trace of themselves. Recently, they helped a homeless couple get off the streets and find housing.
“We got them on board through coordinated access to housing, but there were a lot of barriers to that,” she said. “They had no identifying information, no birth certificates or anything like that.”
Delihanty said the couple moved into their new apartment in early January and recently received furniture.
“They sent us photos this morning. I got a great shot of him chopping vegetables and putting them in a slow cooker and I’m so honored we got to go with them,” she said.
These people do not define homeless policy. They were not asked to solve the problem of homelessness. These are people who have seen something wrong and are trying to fix it.
“Ten years ago I was coming from homelessness and drug addiction myself,” Delihanty said, “so I felt like I could relate a little bit more.”
“It doesn’t solve anything”
The neighbors also understand the problem. They live next door. Some volunteer at the Wellness Fair. They participate in neighborhood cleanups even if the results don’t last long.
“Bless the hearts of the people organizing and doing the cleanups, and I’m one of them,” Littlefield told KOIN 6 News. “But for the neighborhoods and for the campers it really doesn’t matter. Let’s be honest: it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t solve anything.”
Taylor Neitzke is with SOLVE. For decades, TO RESOLVE organized volunteers and groups to come together for the cleanup across Oregon. These cleanups now include homeless campsites. SOLVE joins PDX Saints Love cleaning up SE 94th and Pardee and other sites along the 205 multipurpose trail.
SOLVE cleaning with PDX Saints Love — March 25, 2022
“There are no garbage services for people who live outdoors and no one wants to live that way,” Neitzke said. “This particular type of cleanup is called Urgent Need on our website and so it’s a bit more about 18+ appropriate events. It’s because there’s just kind of an increase in hazardous materials here.
To be clear, SOLVE only picks up trash, not moves people.
But how do you prevent trash, waste and used needles from piling up again.
“We don’t have an answer on how to fix the problem,” Neitzke said. “But what we’re here to do is if you want to make an impact and help your neighborhood, this is a very concrete way to do it.”
This particular neighborhood desperately needs help. A few days after this cleaning, dozens of trash bags were piled with new piles of trash and used needles on the floor.
“They’re trying to help with the services and they’re not trying to end the problem. We need solutions that end the problem,” Littlefield said. “And that root causes – mental illness and addiction. So if we don’t address those two issues, we’re wasting our time, our energy, and taxpayers’ money. And it will never be solved. »
“Choose to tolerate the intolerable”
City Commissioner Dan Ryan is in charge of Portland’s Housing Office and leads the charge of Safe Rest Villages for the homeless.
“We have a reputation for having easy-to-access outdoor drug markets,” Ryan said. “We choose to tolerate the intolerable if you will and it is very divisive. And that creates a lack of confidence for those who have lived in Portland for a long time and who love this city.
Where, as a city, do we draw the line between compassion and tolerance? This is the reality at SE 94th and Pardee.