Homeless for a night

An overnight “homeless conference” is being held by OSPIRGbeginning tonight to address the issue of Portland’s itinerantpopulation.

Through speakers, workshops, an overnight sleepover in thecampus tennis courts by Shattuck Hall and a morning soup kitchenvisit, they hope to come to understand why homelessness occurs andaddress ways students can significantly help with services aimed athelping the destitute.

Debbie Fox, development manager for Sisters of the RoadCaf�, a nonprofit restaurant that works with the homeless,says the conference is a wonderful idea, though she points out thatthe homeless experience can never be truly simulated bystudents.

“At the end of the night, they’ll have a place to go to,” shesays.

The conference addresses an issue Portland has been dealing withsince the ’80s, when there was an explosion in the number ofhomeless people in Oregon.

According to Marshal Renkel, assistant to City Commissioner ErikSten, this occurred because of a rise in the crack cocaineepidemic, the de-institutionalization of people diagnosed withmental illnesses, and what he calls Reaganomics: tax cuts andreductions in social welfare spending implemented during the ’80swhen the number of available jobs and the number of people inunions were both in decline.

Other factors that have led to homelessness include changes andcuts in public assistance and a lack of affordable housing.

Now Oregon is looking at these factors and creating newapproaches to solve Oregon’s homeless problem. Through a programcalled the Citizens’ Commission to End Homelessness in Portland, a10-year plan to end homelessness has been created. Members believethat an end to homelessness lies in putting money into permanentand supportive housing, not homeless shelters.

“Shelters only enable people to remain homeless,” saysRenkel.

According to a 2003 study done by Multnomah County, on average,four out of every 1,000 people in Multnomah County seek sheltereach night. That year 14 percent were turned away because of a lackof resources.

Renkel says that lack of resources has to be better utilized. Byputting money into affordable housing an investment is made intooffering a more secure and long-term way to allow more homelesspeople to obtain places to live.

But Renkel says there is no silver bullet that will solve thisproblem.

Devin DiBernardo, a project assistant with Crossroads, aCommunity Organizing Project of Sisters of the Road Caf�,says an end to homelessness lies in finding real solutions topoverty and homelessness, and that can only be found through firsthand experience.

But the Commission to End Homelessness and PSU’s HomelessConference are trying to solve the problem through understandingdispossession and applying real solutions.

Fox says education and awareness about homelessness is the onlyway solutions to homelessness can be found. The majority ofhomeless individuals – women, children and teenagers – are a partof what she calls the invisible homeless population, who don’t fitthe stereotype of the individual man in Downtown Portland askingfor money.

Creators of PSU’s homeless conference, Reina Abolofia andJennifer Stafford, hope to discuss these stereotypes and findsolutions to homelessness in Portland through speaking withindividuals from Street Roots, Dignity Village and Sisters of TheRoad Cafe.

“I don’t think the point is to say ‘come and spend the nightwith us and you’re going to know what it’s like to be homeless,’because we’ll never will know what is like to be homeless until weare homeless,” Stafford said.