From Hank | February 13, 2016

Dear Readers,Over the past five months, I have had the privilege of interviewing all kinds of people from various backgrounds. Businessmen and politicians, teachers and chefs, some unemployed, others with remarkable resumes. In all this time, I have been trying to do one simple task: teach readers about the world through profiles of normal people. 

So today, as we look deeper into a society that is unseen, I am changing the pace a little by simply sharing my thoughts on an issue that I feel very strongly about. 
Hank On Homelessness

It’s difficult to think what it must be like to be homeless because I have been so far away from that entire community my whole life. Dealing with the homeless is a difficult thing for all cities in the world. On one hand, we want people off the streets so they can be safe and so our streets can be clean. On the other hand, those who are homeless often have an underlying mental illness that prevents them from getting a job, getting off the streets, and fixing their lives. One of the best ways to end homelessness is to get psychiatric help for those who have mental illness. 

Despite the medical attention these people may need, Rachel Solotaroff will argue (Medical Director for Central City Concern – to be featured in next week’s interview) that the most essential thing in life is to have food and shelter. This leads us to another problem: affordable housing. When I spoke to city commissioner Dan Saltzman, he shared with me the breadth of this crisis from his perspective. Portland right now is going through a population boom. This causes – as one would guess – the demand for real estate to skyrocket. So the only way to keep up is to build more homes.

But wait! The City of Portland decided some years ago to not grow the City boundary line. Although this increases farmland and wildlife, it also limits the amount of building that can take place. So now the most effective way to combat the demand is to build vertically, Saltzman explained. 

But wait! There is another problem. With the demand growing rapidly and the supply unable to keep up, developers can build tall buildings and charge whatever price they want. They even tear down homes and bulldoze parks to lay the blueprint for the new apartment. But at the end of the day there is one thing the homeless need: affordable housing. Saltman walked me through all the ways to make housing more affordable, including subsidising homes that are labeled “affordable.” 

So as you can see, getting housing for the homeless is a very difficult proposition. Medical aid is also difficult because unless you are a member of the VA there are very few government run organizations that provide for the homeless.

I am not pretending to know the answers on how to solve the homelessness crisis. I am simply talking about the problem so people can become familiar with the epidemic in Portland. Homelessness will always be a difficult issue especially in a city like Portland that is still being developed. One of the densest areas of homeless in the city is by Chinatown near the Steel Bridge. As these areas become more developed, these camping grounds will be transformed into restaurants and shops. Although that doesn’t solve the homeless issue (it just moves it) it will clean up these parts of the city.

Over the next two weeks, I will talk to two people who lead two of the largest homeless care centers in the city.

Thank you for taking the time to read my debrief on the homelessness in our cities and how to solve it.

Thanks,
Hank

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6 thoughts on “From Hank | February 13, 2016

  1. Hey Hank, I appreciated your post and agree that homelessness and affordable housing are big issues and not just in Portland but in the entire state. Knute is currently working on three bills that address this issue. I will send you a link in case you are interested. Keep up the great work! Patty

    Sent from my iPhone

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  2. Hey Hank,

    As much as I love your writing about food in Portland, I am especially proud of you for this thoughtful and important column. Especially, as you know, the need for increased psych support in our communities. Keep up the good work!

    Brandy

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  3. oh Hank….that you care says a lot about the fine person you are.
    We have dinner and a place for homeless to sleep in churches but not anything in the summer. they are even trying to keep homeless out of libraries it seems. Love, nana
    And….it seems homelessness is all over the WORLD. shame on us all

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  4. Hey Hank,
    Great work and such an important topic. What happens to people when psych wards/hospitals/residences are closed? In Chicago of 2013, they closed 6 out of 12 mental health outpatient clinics. It’s embarrassing and horrible. As nana said, shame on us all.

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  5. Hank, your writing gets better every day. I feel your passion for others and I think that’s wonderful and i greatly admire it, particularly because you’re able to step outside of your own world and understand what is really happening to so many others. Having worked with Open Communities in the northern suburbs of Chicago, I can tell you that many people these days are homeless, not just because of mental and emotional problems or drug abuse, but because they’ve been walked off their jobs en masse because of cuts through no fault of their own. They’re left with mortgages, bills, children in college, car payments, and there are no jobs available to them. They want to work and can’t. This harms their whole family–as you can imagine. And they often end up in the streets with their family members suffering as well. You know, from my view, we have to stop shipping all our jobs and factories overseas for the cheapest labor. We need fair markets, not just free markets where profit is more important than people. We’re now heading into another recession because of people (corporations) who don’t care about their fellow man.

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