Recently, my wife and I celebrated our 21 year wedding anniversary. To commemorate the occasion, we took a trip together to Portland (a city we had heard much about, but had never been to) while my dad and step mom watched our 14 & 11 year old boys (bless their hearts!).
Portland is a complex city… beautiful, majestic, modern, old world charm, and scenic. The people are quirky and wonderful, construction cranes abound as the city is experiencing massive growth, and the food is world class.
What few, however, talk about is the massive amounts of homelessness and poverty found in this burgeoning city. It is literally impossible to walk 100 yards without seeing the downtrodden.
Homelessness is a REAL problem in Portland as well as where we’re originally from (Chicago), where we currently live (San Diego), where our friends live (who came to join us for a few days of the journey — Los Angeles) and SO many other cities across the globe.
One evening, my wife and I went to Safeway to pick up groceries to stock the kitchen for our stay. While the store was a mere two blocks away, the stories we encountered along our short journey bordered on endless.
We witnessed two homeless men nearly coming to blows over a gallon of water that someone had left on the curb. Two homeless middle-aged women were in a furious game of tug-of-war over a dilapidated office chair. They cursed at each other emphatically as we walked by… with a family of four (including two young children no older than 6 or 7) just steps behind us.
And, inside the store, the scene was equally disheartening.
Homeless men and women of all ages, creeds and colors roamed the aisles. Some carried their limited belongings in suitcases or garbage bags not wanting to risk their possessions being stolen. Others, who likely hadn’t bathed in weeks, gave us pause as they walked by. While still others had conversations with themselves poignant enough to make even the bluest of comedians blush.
None of them begged us for money. None of them intentionally made us feel uncomfortable. None of them ‘crossed the societal line’.
It was almost as if an unwritten code governed their actions. Their community played by the same rules, perhaps out of fear for losing the bit of remaining dignity each possessed.
Seeing so many of our people struggle just to live moment by moment led me to give meaningful thought to the cause of homelessness. For the first time, I began to ask myself the question of WHY so many end up on the streets.
Over the years, I’ve given money to the homeless to help them buy a decent meal. We consistently donate our unused clothes and other items to the Salvation Army and Goodwill. And, recently, our family volunteered at a homeless shelter serving dinner to more than 100 in San Diego.
But, I never really stopped to think about HOW this can happen to so many in a country with so much.
And, while many organizations address the symptoms (helping those who live on the streets with food and occasional shelter), I believe that we truly need to address the disease (how and why people become homeless) and help as many as possible avoid the same fate BEFORE it happens.
Over the next year, my goal is to invite organizations and individuals who work with the homeless onto our radio show/podcast, Reinvention Radio, to discuss this epidemic. (If you know of qualified people to join us, please have them reach out to me.)
I certainly don’t claim to have a viable solution to offer. Nor, am I intimating that discussing homelessness on our show will help us to identify one.
What I do know is that we can’t continue to put our heads in the sand and pretend that a true epidemic isn’t afoot because we’re not seeing the homeless on every doorstep.
Fact is, one day in the not so distant future… I’m concerned that we will… unless we take action now.
I’d love to hear your thoughts.
PS – Just today, people are losing their minds about Facebook shedding nearly $100 BILLION in value overnight. If even a fraction of this wealth was directed towards providing programs, services, shelter and sustenance for the homeless, we could put a serious dent into this issue.