No answers, but some observations.

I’ve been irritated since the other day when Apartment Therapy did a feature on a perfectly serviceable walk-in closet remodel for a mere $4500 (wallpaper, paint, cabinets), plus the two chandeliers that a commenter found cost $2k, each. Yes, the newly redone closet looks very nice, but it’s a closet and not even one of those bedrooms redone as a closet with space in the middle to sit down, just a fair-sized walk-in closet. Some people become creative in divesting themselves of too much money.

I bought art. Because artists need support.

So do others.

“Homeless” people and encampments are all over Portland, and Seattle is rumored to be worse. I had no idea Los Angeles considered itself the epicenter. “Sam Quinones traces the recent epidemic of homelessness in western states, the one marked by meth abuse and tents, to LA’s Skid Row.

Gary took this photo of a seagull poop because he thought it looked like an egg, sunny side up.

[Estela] Lopez—69 and, in her words, “5 feet 1 inches of Aztec fury”—is optimistic by nature. Indeed, her job requires it. For most of two decades, she has held the thankless post of business-improvement director for the industrial zone that includes most of the 50 square blocks of Skid Row. …

In Lopez’s view, what created today’s Skid Row includes municipal abandonment combined with methamphetamine, the abdication of drug addiction and mental-illness treatment, misguided charity, and the city’s settlement of court cases that, in practice, now limit enforcement of laws governing drug sales, street habitation, pimping, and assaults. In recent years, Skid Row-style homelessness, marked by meth abuse and tents, has spread across Southern California and many parts of the U.S. By 2018, tent cities had emerged in Mid-Wilshire, Santa Monica, Highland Park, South Central, and along freeways commuters rode to work. A strip of tents on Venice Beach became known to locals as Methlehem.

—Sam Quinnones in LA Magazine

The name “Skid Row” as applied to a district in a city was created in Seattle, the area now called Pioneer Square and in Portland as Old Town. Or maybe it was first used in Vancouver, BC, another significant logging city. According to Wikipedia: “The term ‘skid road’ dates back to the 17th century, when it referred to a log road, used to skid or drag logs through woods and bog. The term was in common usage in the mid-19th century and came to refer not just to the corduroy roads themselves, but to logging camps and mills all along the Pacific Coast.” So… logging. No logging of this kind in Los Angeles. The term has recently been coopted to refer to what otherwise might be referred to a homeless camp or tent city.

At right is what we call the “Seal Rock” because it looks to us like a seal’s head rising out of the sand. The sunlit seastack furthest away is Haystack.

My second observation is the stink of meth. I have never used meth. My youthful drug experimentation was limited to several highs on marijuana and getting drunk just once in my teens and before meeting Gary. (Vodka and orange juice, screwdrivers… I couldn’t even drink orange juice for four years afterwards. Someday I will tell that story.) But when we were looking for Portland housing for our younger son almost twenty years ago, one of the offerings was a small place that stank of what smelled to us like cat piss. Ick! No, a friend informed us, “That’s meth.” Most of what I know about meth is thus third hand. The rumor that local people were “cooking meth” in the forest just east of us on the coast, that buildings used to make meth were highly toxic, that using meth ruins faces.

What I do remember firsthand is that stink of meth, and I had not come across it in years, but now I often smell it in Portland, just around a corner, up an alley, behind a tent. Other people have said I was smelling weed, but that is a smell I do know from back in the day and more recently since it’s legal. Sometimes renters staying next door smoke so much dope on the deck that we have to close our skylights to keep the smell out. (Seriously—that’s a lot of weed!) I never thought marijuana “stank” and even though it’s been (a lot of) decades since I smoked it, what I’ve occasionally been getting a whiff of in Portland is not weed but cat piss, aka methamphetamines.

In all the articles I have seen about homelessness in Portland, meth has not been mentioned.

My impression of the homeless people I have encountered is they are financially struggling, mentally ill, or drug addicted. Most are some combination or all three. The woman who spent daytimes on the end of our block has moved on, and we were relieved to discover she was still alive and well someplace else. I would guess she is, from our brief conversations, mentally ill. The man who blocked the entire sidewalk around the corner from a high end shop on NW 23rd was repeatedly arrested for threatening behavior and finally moved west, was probably both mentally ill and using. The guy who sells us Street Roots might have other issues, but mostly I think he’s financially unable to afford private housing.

When we were in college in Seattle, on Saturdays we took the bus downtown. We walked to Pike Place Market—we were not coffee drinkers in those days, but the original Starbucks store was the best place to buy imported chocolate broken from enormous bars. After shopping the Market, Gary worked his way through pawn shops on First Avenue to Pioneer Square, looking at guitars. The men who told Gary their lives (he listened so very patiently—me too) and asked for change (he always had some) would be in trouble today. Who carries change anymore? How many people carry actual physical money since the pandemic?

Those homeless men who talked to us in the 70s were alcoholics who were grateful to share their sorrow. Is it even safe to talk to a person who stinks of cat piss?

Something must be done about the homeless, but so far nothing is done, which is always the cheaper alternative. At least at first. If you don’t count suffering and waste as a cost. Or if we think they deserve to suffer?

As soon as I hear someone initiate a conversation about homelessness with “I worked hard all my life…” I know that doing nothing is in play. They view homelessness as an individual character flaw. It is not, in some minds, a symptom of social weakness. It is not something that can or even should be addressed with compassion, at least not with doing something about it.

[This is where I say that I know people who have clearly not worked hard all their lives, but live in comfort and with the full support of family money, as well as the housing, medical care, and legal assistance that money can buy. Some have been in rehab. Most have not struggled to find food or housing. Not ever.]

I have worked hard for the majority of my life, raised two sons who never went to jail, never got their girlfriend accidentally pregnant, but who graduated from college and also work hard to support their families. Not everyone is so lucky. Not everyone is willing to consider how lucky they have been. Many assume they deserve their good fortune… and thus the unfortunate deserve theirs.

So there it is. And I have a problem with that.

I think we should expect to pay to fix the homeless problem. We should not run away or ignore it as if our good fortune were not built on the suffering of others, like Omelas. Homelessness is a social not just a personal problem. It is not merely a character flaw, but a cultural one. Even the ancient Sumerians ensured everyone had food and shelter.

[Which is not to say I think “homeless camps” should be tolerated. I sometimes imagine taking a parking garage, installing level wood decks in each spot for one tent each, proper toilets and showers, supervision and support, mental and physical health care, trash pick-up, kitchens… Not ideal but surely better than squatting on the curb. Or perhaps not. As I think I am suggesting—do something! Do the right thing.]

[And while I am at it, can I say that the pathetic excuses for tagging on buildings should be addressed? Most of these illegible spray-painted words remind me of the puffy letters classmates drew when I was a Second Grader, and I thought they looked stupid even when I was seven years old. Who is impressed by this? And when it’s on granite or marble facing or a brick wall or even raw concrete, I just want to scream.]

Shorebirds at Hug Point the other day. Probably spotted sandpipers, but the species is usually gone by October. (These birds may be molting to non-breeding adult plumage—their still-spotted belly.) This has been a strange summer for weather.

11 thoughts on “HOMELESS

  1. In King County the council bought hotels and used them as shelter during Covid. There are hotels that could be used for shelter but there is difficulty in finding staff ; social workers etc. so they can be opened.
    Seattle and King County have raised a lot of money to address homelessness. It’s still a big problem. Your garage idea might be doable?

    Liked by 1 person

    • The key is quality supervision and support services. They need to pay more for those support services. Social workers, as one example, are notoriously underpaid.

      Paying more for emotionally draining and intellectually challenging work by properly educated support people is not only the right thing, it is necessary.

      [Management is almost universally overpaid and underworked, imo. Managers today are what they used to say about teaching: those who can’t become management. Ask anyone, other than a manager. I know of too many managers who have no actual understanding of what the skilled people they “manage” do.]

      Liked by 1 person

  2. You essay is moving. And the best and truest point is that the narratives around homelessness blame the homeless, and then society can just ignore the homeless. And this gets applied to other social issues, so basically, if you’re poor, working a low-paying job, or don’t have insurance–it’s your fault. What a bunch of malarkey.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. they’re here, they’re there
    some far, some near
    it’s too hard to ignore
    them crowded by the door
    eyes pleading in pain
    from figures chalked beneath our feet
    a final resting place from our failure

    Liked by 3 people

  4. according to Em Leigh, Bryan Dyne
    20 June 2021 wsws.org:

    “There were an estimated 11,751 individuals experiencing homelessness in Seattle-King County, according to the [most recent] official one-night count in January 2020. Forty-seven percent of these persons were unsheltered, the third highest homeless population in the country after New York City and Los Angeles. …

    “Such conditions are echoed elsewhere in the Pacific Northwest. In Portland, Oregon, there were at least 4,000 people experiencing homelessness at the end of 2019, a count which has not been updated in part thanks to the pandemic. Oregon as a whole has an estimated 14,600 homeless people, while Washington has more than 22,300.”


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