By Rich Riegel
Wandering the streets with overloaded shopping carts, camping under bridges, viaducts and next to businesses, and congregating in local parks, Portland’s homeless population is everywhere, and residents and businesspeople in inner SE experience their fair share of what our parents referred to as “bums.” That derogatory term puts a taint on an already complex situation.
Trying to put a name and face on the nameless and faceless is a daunting task, but without making the issue human, there’s no way to offer solutions to the problem.
Simply put, what can neighbors, business owners and employees do to help? What’s the best way to deal directly with one or more of the homeless who may be panhandling or rifling through your recycling on a regular basis?
Jacob Brostoff is a crime prevention coordinator with the City of Portland’s Office of Neighborhood Involvement. He covers the area of SE Portland from Interstate 84 south to the Ardenwald neighborhood of Sellwood, and in between the Willamette River and SE Cesar Chavez Blvd.
“There are a lot of organizations that work with the homeless community,” Brostoff explained, especially mentioning JOIN as one. “There are also a number of faith-based organizations that work with the homeless.”
To become proactive in the solution or prevention of homelessness, Brostoff emphasized direct action by the public.
“Volunteering with them or providing resources is a great way to help homeless folks and be proactive.”
He said there are a number of organizations that work on the issue of homelessness, that “…are organized and they do a lot of good work. Supporting them is a really important way to support the community.”
Chris Bonner is the president of the board of directors of JOIN, and lives and works in SE Portland. JOIN’s mission is to support the efforts of homeless individuals and families to transition out of homelessness into permanent housing. Its efforts are focused on individuals sleeping outside or in an automobile in the Portland metropolitan area.
Bonner said there are several areas JOIN helps those out on the street. One area she calls outreach and engagement.
“JOIN currently has seven people who go out every night,” she explained, “to meet with folks on the street where they’re camping. The outreach people from JOIN check in with the homeless, see what they need, and offer friendship and a connection to somebody who can help them find what they need to take the next step.”
Bonner said each homeless person’s issue is different: Some need a bus ticket. Some are on disability so they can’t work.
“Our goal with those folks is to find out they think they need to move inside,” she said. A second prong is what Bonner and JOIN call housing retention.
“Retention workers help the folks that get housing retain the housing,” she said. “That could be anything from finding jobs, helping them getting to medical and legal appointments or just offering friendship and support.”
A third component is what she calls “The House”; JOIN’s basic service center, which offers a day space for the homeless located at their headquarters at 1435 NE 81st Ave. It’s open every day from 10 am to 3 pm.
“That’s where people can take a shower, have a storage locker, do laundry and get on the computer,” Bonner detailed. She said that JOIN has other partners that come in and help, including the Outside In Medical Van that comes to JOIN Wednesdays from 1 to 4 pm.
“The house is where people who are currently on the street can look for jobs, contact their family and connect with other folks in the same situation.”
A fourth part of what JOIN does harkens back to the roots of the program as it started in 1992. It’s called the Immersion Program.
Bonner said JOIN takes high school students, church groups and others out on the street, from one day to one week, where they can meet homeless people. She said the JOIN website has a sample experience video with a discussion of what people can expect.
“We take people out and travel to a homeless camp to meet with some folks. When we are there, we ask the homeless what it is like to be homeless.” She said people will share their fears and struggles. Later those visiting gather to share the experience and reflect on it.
Bonner had several suggestions for those who want to help the homeless population.
“It’s easy for this issue to feel overwhelming,” she said. “Don’t underestimate the value of giving socks, underwear, blankets and toiletries to organizations like JOIN. Those items make the difference between surviving on the streets or not.”
Another suggestion from Bonner is to find a way to develop a deeper relationship with someone who is currently living on the street, whether through church or work.
“There is so much value in that. Homelessness can be extremely isolating. Establish a connection with someone who is currently living on the street, so they know they are seen and are of value. It can be very powerful for them and for you.”
She suggested that either on a personal, corporate or organizational plane, find a way to volunteer with an organization that helps the homeless population, or donate money or in-kind items.
“That works on so many different levels,” she said. “It works for the person who is housed, it works for the person who was able to helps and helps us as a community because we show that we care for the vulnerable.”
“It’s just not that complex,” said Bonner. “I think (JOIN) is unique in the way that our work is relationship-oriented. There are lots of different models, the key is to find a way to get involved.”
JOIN’s website is www.joinpdx.com.
Tips on handling
SE Portland ONI Crime Prevention Coordinator Jacob Brostoff was asked about proactive strategies to deal with panhandling. He referred to a brochure produced by the City of Portland addressing the issues.
The brochure, “Problem Solving Issues in Public Spaces,” offers information along with telephone numbers and contact information.
“Panhandling is not the same as homelessness,” Brostoff said. “They are two different issues and two different situations. Not everyone who panhandles is homeless and not every homeless person panhandles.”
The brochure also contains instructions and contact information for issues regarding graffiti, aggressive animals, litter accumulation and illegal dumping, abandoned shopping carts, abandoned cars or bicycles, and individuals camping on public property or the right of way.
Read it online at: www.portlandoregon.gov/oni/article/320565
Included are guidelines for when it’s appropriate to call 9-1-1 and when it’s more appropriate to call Portland Police Bureau’s non-emergency telephone number 503.823.3333.
Citizens are advised to call 9-1-1 when they:
• witness an individual or group “exhibiting behaviors that pose a safety risk to others such as threatening behavior, fighting and intimidation, regardless of whether he/she is sober or intoxicated.”
• when one or more persons are exhibiting behaviors that pose a safety risk to him/herself such as stumbling into traffic, passing out while intoxicated and inflicting self-injury.
• when citizens witness illicit drug sales, lewd sexual behaviors and trespassing.
Neighbors are advised by the ONI crime prevention staff to call the police non-emergency phone number when they observe one or more individuals consuming drugs or alcohol in public; aggressively panhandling, including persistent requests for money despite saying no; urinating or defecating in public; and engaging in any other improper use of public property.
The Southeast Examiner spoke to two women who had the same idea when it came to dealing with panhandlers.
Delanie Delimont, executive director of Lift Urban Portland, an interfaith community of volunteers and contributors, and Robin Resnick, a former counselor with Janus Youth Programs and Outside In, said offering panhandlers meal coupons for Sisters of the Road Café in Northwest Portland is one strategy.
“It’s better to give meal coupons than cash, which could be used for alcohol or drugs,” said Delimont.
Meal coupons cost $2 each, and are good for one meal and a drink at the Sisters of the Road Café at 133 NW Sixth Ave.
Sisters of the Road offers a variety of services for the homeless population. For information, call 503.222.5694 or see www.sistersoftheroad.org
The Office of Crime Prevention: www.portlandoregon.gov/oni/cp
Crime Prevention Coordinator Jacob Brostoff can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and by phone at 503.823.0540.