Last month, Cards Cook received a several thousand dollar grant to fight homelessness in Portland. Oregon Food Bank gave the CC (Cards Cook) team the money to set up a “solutions feast” where people in the homeless community come and discuss how to fix this problem. Since then, I have been racking my brain, searching for novel ideas that could change the homelessness scene in Portland.
Last week, my school’s Principal came into my “Leadership” class to discuss the biggest issue right now at our school. Every day, several students get caught vaping in the school bathrooms. Last year, students worked hard to get a multigender bathroom installed in our school. Now, this bathroom is a used by smokers to vape with their friends during school. The Principal asked our class the same thing Oregon Food Bank asked Cards Cook: what are the solutions to the growing issue?
I have been racking my brain, looking for answers to both of these issues problems. I have been trying my hardest to find some unique way to approach both of these issues that are causing pain in our communities. After hours and hours of meetings and think tanks and class discussions and phone calls, I have come no closer to the solution. Except for this one thing.
For both of these issues, there is a systemic tolerance for something that should not be tolerated.
For homelessness: For years, the city of Portland has coddled the homeless community. Instead of preventing them from setting up tents in the public parks or patches of grass by the freeway, under the bridges or in the public squares, the city has allowed for the homeless to group. What this does is not only make for an eye sore but it also sends a message to the community that seeing groups of homeless is an acceptable reality that Portland must work around. While the past Mayor may have thought that he was being wise in his choice to embrace those down on their luck, he actually increased the crisis in our city. There should be a much lower tolerance for the homeless. If there was, then the city would be working harder to solve the issue. If there is any sort of mental tolerance that is in the hearts of civic leaders, we will be that much less inclined to fix the situation. While I know as good as anyone that being homeless is terrible and we must have empathy for those living on the streets, we must not allow them the comfort of living on the streets. Over the past 10 years, the homeless population has increased 50 percent and the major difference in our city has been the accept this group of people.
Same with my school.
Last week, there was a meeting with several kids in my class to try and fix the vaping problem. The discussions contained propositions of school incentives or group dinners or community bonding events that could preach to kids the value of staying off tobacco and the medical problems that vapes cause. None of these will work. In reality, the problem in our school is that when someone gets caught, the only repercussions are a call home and a confiscation of the vape. Believe it or not, when the students get a call home, the parental reaction is indifferent to mildly disappointed. There is a community wide acceptance for this problem.
Until we do things that change the public opinion of these issues, there is little the school can do.
The same can be said for homelessness. It is the job of a few high school students to use the money we have been given to change public opinions.