If you’ve spent any amount of time in downtown Portland, you’ve seen the shopping carts. Piled high with the possessions of the transient and homeless, they collect on the sidewalk, along the Burnside bridge, and anywhere their owners are making a bed for the night.
If you’ve spent any amount of time in downtown Portland, you’ve seen the shopping carts. Piled high with the possessions of the transient and homeless, they collect on the sidewalk, along the Burnside bridge, and anywhere their owners are making a bed for the night. In Old Town, entire blocks are covered by the belongings of the homeless, at risk of being stolen, rained on or thrown away by street cleaners.
Soon there will be a safe place for the homeless to put their belongings off the street. The Portland Tribune reported last month that Portland Housing Bureau plans to open a storage facility for the homeless. Located at 401 W. Burnside, the facility will allow the homeless the freedom of not having to constantly keep an eye on their possessions and potentially provide the opportunity for them to become more stabilized. The facility should be a truly welcome addition and is an example of wise and constructive use of city funds.
A main concern that the homeless have regarding their possessions, one homeless person told Peter Korn of The Portland Tribune, is the Clean & Safe security officers whose job it is to throw any unattended street possessions into the trash. According to the Clean & Safe services website, it is their job to “maintain a clean, attractive and orderly downtown.” The storage facility would assist greatly in their work by providing a place where the homeless can take their belongings, rather than being forced to leave them out in the open where they might block walkways or clutter the sidewalks.
It’s not only street cleaners that the homeless have to watch out for. If they turn their back for a minute, a homeless person’s belongings could be taken by anyone. One woman, who goes by the name Mama Cat and who has been homeless off-and-on for more than 20 years, told the Portland Tribune about a time when she had an appointment with the Social Security office and left her cart with a friend. When she returned, the cart and its contents were gone. Not having a place to put their belongings, even for a moment, inhibits the basic daily activities for homeless people: getting breakfast, getting coffee or keeping an appointment.
I have, on more than one occasion, been asked by a person living on the street to watch their things while they ran into the store. I can imagine it poses a daily struggle. As Mama Cat pointed out, the storage facility would allow the homeless to go to job or housing interviews and would assist in their efforts “to get more stabilized.” If the homeless didn’t have to worry about their belongings disappearing, they could put energy into becoming more autonomous and productive.
There are those who are concerned that the city is proposing to store what is largely stolen property. The shopping carts that many homeless people use are often taken from stores and have had the store’s name removed. Maileen Hamto of the Portland Housing Bureau told the Portland Tribune that only carts without store names on them would be accepted for storage. One homeless person, asked by the Portland Tribune about having to give up her shopping cart, didn’t seem concerned. If it meant that she could store her belongings, she said, it was worth giving up the cart.
There are also those concerned about what could be hidden in the belongings stored by the city. Doreen Binder of nonprofit Transition Projects, Inc. is concerned about the drugs and weapons that might possibly be in the possession of the homeless. But she told the Tribune she doesn’t intend to ask the storage facility’s staff to search the belongings.
“Anybody walking down the street could have anything in their pockets,” she said. “We can’t become a police state.”
The storage facility is more than just a practical plan for clearing away streets and walkways and cleaning up the city; it gives the homeless back a bit of their humanity. They no longer have to keep their things strewn about in the open, in danger of being ruined, stolen or thrown away. They’ll have a place where they know their belongings will be safe as well as an anchor, making them that much closer to having a home. ?