Re: Interview with Willamette Week on PDX homelessness battles

Elise Aymer

Thanks for sharing that interview with the listserv, Tim. 

Very often in interviews like that one most of what we hope will be conveyed is lost, as the reporter will just strip the comments for soundbytes or use the conversation as background for their piece. As such, it was great to be able to read all of it.

I picked up on the false dichotomy theme, as Emerson did. In this case, it seems especially false because both respective governments (county and municipal) seem to have a lot of money available to them from distinct sources and so money shouldn't be an obstacle, whatever the course. 

And I took in Tim's point about solving these issues not being about throwing money at them anyway. He referenced what he's noted about homelessness in the Bay Area where there is a lot of funding available but still very little meaningful, positive change.

Tim also talked about "permanent housing" and how that can be a shifting and subjective term. I had not thought before about how the insecurity that many renters face could render their apartment (as the push is always to build more apartment units) "temporary housing." That framing was new to me, but I think useful. What do we really mean when we are proposing either "permanent" or "temporary" housing solutions?

I appreciated Tim's disclosure that he himself is housing insecure yet isn't the accepted stereotype of a homeless person, as I think that the stereotypes around who is unhoused play a major part in how things play out politically and obscure the actual scope of the problem in Portland.

To Aisha's point, I do think that for a lot of the housed residents those who are homeless are a nuisance that they just want to be rid of. This attitude, which I would call out as enmeshed with racism, xenophobia and dripping with privilege also presents as othering and not being able to register the systemic issues that have created and maintain this crisis. 

It's always about that undesirable homeless person and what they as an individual have done or haven't done to land themselves in their situation even though this kind of thinking is at odds with reality.

As someone who pays such close attention to what's happening around housing and homelessness at the City and County levels and attends so many governmental sessions, I appreciate that TIm has been consistent in asking the elected officials to center the experiences and input of actual houseless people. I am cynical about how much those appeals can penetrate - but the ethical approach is to make them anyway.

Emerson makes good solutions-focused points that go beyond the dichotomy in instituting both short and long term fixes. My thought is that I am uncertain that the exercise municipally or at the county level is really ever about residents or solutions.

I think a lot about the similarities here with how for many people it seems it's been a revelation that the police aren't protecting and serving and that the justice system isn't actually about justice.    

In the interview with Tim, Sophie Peel referenced the article she was writing about Sam Adams' (proxy for Mayor Wheeler) meeting with downtown law firm partners about the homeless presence there. Someone else posted the finished article to this listserv originally. I'll repost it here:

The article speaks to a Mayor and his municipal supporters who are focused on giving big donors what they want and holding onto political power. Solutions and even the opinions of housed residents (however, skewed and unhelpful we might think those are) don't even come into it.

It seems like even in progressive Portland, that elected officials who view themselves as public servants are a rarity. I hesitate to say this, as I have often been disappointed in life, but it seems kudos are due to Commissioner Meiran in keeping the community in focus.

Tim mentioned Homer Williams and his efforts being stymied as the two levels of government square off. Some of his initiatives, such as his pod villages, require access to land. I wondered about the possibility of expanding some of his other solutions (such as mobile showers) in the interim -- plus, many of the other essential solutions that Emerson mentioned and that other listserv members keep bringing up as constant concerns on the street.

I wonder about grassroots coalition building and funding for initiatives outside of government. A maybe unanswerable question I have is how much can reasonably be expected of government on these issues? 

In other cities, where there is no illusion of progressive government, the activist moves have been simultaneously to try to replace elected officials, like Wheeler, who aren't there to serve anyone but themselves and to build grassroots capacity to get things done even when government isn't amenable or doing the right things. 

With so much energy focused on what's happening at the County and City, I wonder about that other work -- how we're moving ahead in other ways.

Thanks again, Tim for sharing the interview.



On Sun, May 23, 2021 at 6:44 PM Tim McCormick <tmccormick@...> wrote:
WW interviewed me, I wrote it up:

"The houseless vs the settlement: interview with Willamette Week".  

a field report from Portland's increasingly heated, fractious homelessness policy battles.

discussing, among others: 
County Commissioner Sharon Meieran, 
County Chair Deborah Kafoury 
PSU Homelessness Research & Action Collaborative director Dr. Marisa Zapata 
Homer Williams, founder of Oregon Harbor of Hope
Councilmember Dan Ryan.

Sophie Peel, Reporter, WW
Mark Zusman, Publisher WW
Aaron Mesh, Editor, WW 
Nigel Jaquiss, Reporter, WW
Rachel Monahan, Reporter, WW
Tess Riski, Reporter, WW
[note to WW staff or others receiving this email: you can reply to PDX Shelter Forum by using Reply to All or addressing to].
Tim McCormick
Moderator PDX Shelter Forum, Editor at HousingWiki,
Organizer at Village Collaborative
Portland, Oregon 

Elise Aymer
Co-founder, Critical Diversity Solutions
Pronouns: She/her

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