A day and a half in the neighborhood...
I am just home from a morning in my neighborhood, running around in the spirit of Beacon PDX. This is so so needed. Here’s my day(s)
Yesterday afternoon I was early for picking up my kiddo from kindergarten and noticed a couple of police cars, lights on, parked in front of the church. It being my first day not working from inside, I thought I could at least see what was going on. The police (three cars and at least 5 officers) were asking for everybody’s name and birthday, writing it down, and issuing them an ‘illegal structure warning’ or something like that…it’s the official way to declare tarps and tents that are up during the daytime as illegal housing.
One friend didn’t want to give his name. He felt he’d done nothing wrong and had no need to give the police his name, “none of the stuff is mine, I’m just sitting here.” he said. The officer started getting frustrated, threatened to cuff him, kept telling him that the only way to get them to go away was to give his name, “That’s my orders. That’s my job.” the officer explained, backing S into a literal corner between the fire escape and the building.
Finally S. gave his name in a burst of frustration. The officer said, “Now what was so hard about that?”
Watching this from a few feet away, surrounded by houseless folks that had just given their names to the officers, I decided to enter the conversation. I kept my voice even as best I could: “I think what was hard for S is that you are asking for information from him and not me. I’m standing here. I’ve been here. Nobody has asked for my name or ID or anything else. Why does he have to give his?”
“Because he’s associated with these people.”
“So am I. I’ve witnessed this a dozen times and nobody has ever asked for my name or birthday.”
“And why do you think that is?”
“Well, classism I suppose.” I answered honestly.
The officer appreciated my honesty of opinion but did not agree with my analysis. Anyhow, in the end the officer ended up apologizing to S. for making him feel attacked. He apologized to me for becoming elevated. And then he asked, “What could we have done differently? Here, where the rubber meets the road, what could we have done differently?”
I was kind of blown away and called out, “What do you think, guys? What could they have done differently?” A few voices chimed in (Let us leave when we said we were leaving, speak to us like people, don’t threaten us…). A few minutes later the police drove away and I went to pick up my kid.
I rode away on my bike thinking, “Hmm, I’m glad I went to check on my friends.”
This morning I started at 9 with a friend who has been staying in a van near Sunnyside for a while. We met in Freddy’s. He’s looking for a way to help Pat and is interested in trying to get a fruit and flower stand going, where the profits would go to Beacon. He has many big ideas. We talked through the steps to take to make it come to fruition and I told him I’d be happy to join him at a couple of meetings as he solicits donations and checks for space for his project. I think and hope he felt supported.
Then I drove over to New Seasons and picked up my friend D. D needed to re-enroll in the Oregon Health Plan. He has a hernia that has been recommended for surgery but he is living on the street and allowed his coverage to lapse…or at least he thought so and so he hadn’t been going to a doctor. I took him down to Richmond clinic and in 10 minutes we learned that he was still enrolled but had lost his primary care physician. We found him a new one and he has an appointment in four weeks and insurance at least through May…he was excited to learn that dental coverage is included and wants to pursue that…
We are going to meet regularly the next few weeks because D has big plans and some concrete tasks to check off. As we left each other after a coffee, he said, “Thanks man. It helps so much to keep me motivated to get stuff done, to keep going, to be happy if I feel like people are rooting for me.”
I think we all need that.
Then I cruised by the church in search of my friend Scott so that a reporter can ask him a few more questions about Debby’s death. I couldn’t find Scott but two of his friends took down the reporters phone number and said, “Scott can use my phone if we see him before you do.”
I drove away thinking, that’s community!
Now I am home and about to eat lunch. I am lucky to have a place out of the rain. I am lucky to have so many friends in the neighborhood. I am lucky to be able to sate my hunger. Thanks for reading.