Essays From A Dysfunctional Life

Murmurings about life as it is and as it can be.

Homelessness: A Recreational Activity?

on May 14, 2018

A homeless camp has grown in the parking structure near my office. There is garbage and tents and shopping carts filled with the meager personal belongings of those who have made their home in the parking garage.

There is a war on homelessness in this country, and in this small Oregon town. Homelessness makes those with homes feel uncomfortable. They are labeled as “dirty,” “smelly,” “dangerous,” “druggies,” and “crazy.”

There may be some kernel of truth in these statements. It can be difficult to take care of basic hygiene and to wear clean clothes when you don’t have regular access to bathroom or laundry facilities. Many people who experience mental illness can end up on the streets after losing housing due to unpredictable behavior or extended stays in psychiatric hospitals. Too many who are unhoused self-medicate to manage mental illness, physical, and emotional pain.

Recently, our City Council President was quoted as saying: “It’s there for business purposes, not to be a recreational area.” in response to concerns regarding the homeless camping in the parking garage. Recreational area? I don’t believe that a homeless camp constitutes recreational activity.

As a community member, I often choose not to park in the structure due to potential safety concerns in the evening. And, I agree that the parking structure is not designed for use as housing. People should not have to sleep on the pavement in a parking structure to avoid the rain in the winter and the heat in the summer. But seeking shelter away from the elements does not constitute “recreation.” It is reprehensible for anyone to equate obtaining shelter with a weekend fishing trip.

The homeless in our community have already been banned from the downtown area, pushed out of churches by neighbors who say “not in my neighborhood,” and expelled from local parks for vagrancy. So what is left? Those with cars or campers, park on city and neighborhood streets inciting rage and those who don’t have the luxury of a vehicle, camp in wooded lots and city parking structures.

Not everyone wants to be housed, but for those who do there is limited affordable housing in our community. Between local college students who fill available units most of the year and the hospitality industry which is voraciously consuming housing and creating vacation rentals, housing becomes more and more limited each year.

The solution to homelessness is complicated. It is more than just finding a home. The solution includes providing access to health care services including physical and mental health. It includes employment support. For some it includes drug and alcohol treatment. And, it includes giving people a hand.

Lifting up instead of pushing away.

Healing rather than rejection.

Offering compassion.

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