It’s up to us to help the homeless

You’ve probably heard some buzz regarding the housing crisis in Portland, and the facts are true: Living in our beautiful city is getting more expensive as landlords hike rent to impossible rates. When tenants are forced to move out because of the unaffordable, inflated prices, many rent the space as an Airbnb for $150 a night.

If you live in student housing you may feel removed from the implications of these gouging rental increases. But how removed are you really?

It is now impossible to ignore the number of Portland’s residentially dislocated citizens. Chances are that many of us are a single paycheck from desperation ourselves. The fallout is especially evident in downtown’s Park Blocks where Portland citizens who lack permanent shelter congregate throughout the day. There, they find a community within the masses of homeless comrades looking for a place to be. People living on the streets of Portland span every demographic of age, race, physical ability and family size.

Thanks to our fair mayor and his legal-to-camp-anywhere policy, there are tents under every on-ramp, along freeway overpasses and lined along sidewalks. This is a band-aid, not a solution.

This homeless “issue” is not exclusive to Portland. I visited Vancouver, B.C. and Seattle where I noticed large contingencies of displaced communities in each city. Perhaps I was more aware of the situation, but it seemed as if there were people everywhere with no homes. Not only were people pushing rattling shopping carts along the streets filled with their only belongings, but many were finding shelter within makeshift broken tents on public pieces of grass.

There are numerous factors beyond the housing crisis that play into one finding themselves living outside, such as addiction and mental health. Services to address these concerns are limited and commonly ineffective, and public outbursts can feed the fear of what we don’t understand.

It may feel safer to ignore these people and cross the street before you pass them by. Believe me, I know. When a woman recently pushed me aside and screamed “F*** YOU” while walking near Pioneer Square, I got away as fast as I could.

Whenever walking by people sitting on the corners with their cardboard sharpie-penned signs, I think, “I’m a broke college student, I have nothing for you. There are too many to help!”

But is that really true?

As students, we are representative of the future of our community. We educate ourselves to not only become employable but to help create a better world. Sounds like a lofty goal, but higher education by its very nature is designed to produce contributors to society, forward thinkers and the next great leaders. If this is truly the case, then the responsibility of finding a solution for putting a roof over every head falls on our shoulders.

We will inevitably make the policies of tomorrow, which means we should be paying attention and thinking about solutions today. We may not have all the answers, but who better to start working on the problem than us?

Perhaps the first step will come from taking time to listen and help on a fundamental level. Never put yourself in harm’s way, but push out of your comfort zone. Then, ask yourself why you feel uncomfortable. It’s important to acknowledge our privilege, even if our privilege is only a warm, dry place to sleep.

There is always something we can do to help. Be proactive. Find out what services exist and how many can benefit from them. Learn the laws and policies and decide what needs to change. Serve a meal. Donate a coat. Do whatever you can to defend the rights of the unrepresented and dislocated.

There is a fine line separating the housing crisis from the homeless issue and we would be wise to remember how close we could be to either side.