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Two videos that will help you understand homelessness in Portland

Posted by on May 27th, 2016 at 1:14 pm

Still from Hazelnut Grove, a short film by Kevin Neidorf.

Still from Hazelnut Grove, a short film by Kevin Neidorf.

I want to share two videos that I think will help broaden your understanding of the homelessness crisis and give you some new perspective on it. And here’s why I’m doing it:

Over the past few months I’ve gotten many emails from people who bike by homeless camps and then write in to say: “The homeless situation is out of hand and something needs to be done about it.” In part because of emails like that we’ve covered the topic several times recently.

This might make you wonder: Why are bicycle riders talking about the local homelessness crisis? Why am I reading about this on a bike blog?

Part of the answer is that when you experience a city by bike, you are physically and mentally much more a part of your surroundings than people who drive or use transit. Bicycle riders experience the street environment in a very direct way, so it’s no surprise that all this camping — much of it happening directly adjacent to multi-use paths — is on many people’s minds at the end of their commute.

On a personal note, I’ve learned a lot in the past year as I’ve watched the politics of this issue play out in city hall and tried (and not always succeeded) to lead a discussion about it here on BikePortland. As part of that learning process I’ve read up on the subject, added a lot of new voices to my social media feeds, and stay open to new information and perspectives. On that note, I’ve just come across two great videos that I felt were worth sharing.

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The first is Hazelnut Grove, a short film by Kevin Neidorf. The Hazelnut Grove camp that has sprung up in North Portland’s Overlook Neighborhood has been on our radar since the beginning because it’s directly adjacent to the Greeley Avenue bike path connection (from Interstate). We started getting emails from readers about it almost as soon as the tents went up. Some people weren’t happy that the path was being “routinely blocked” by Hazelnut Grove residents. Neidorf’s film beautifully breaks down that wall between “us” and “them” by sharing first-person narratives from Grove residents.

The other video is a TedX talk given just last week by the Street Roots editor Israel Bayer. Street Roots is a local nonrofit newspaper that covers homelessness and gives voice to people who don’t usually have one in our local politics or media. Bayer’s talk was titled, Homelessness In America: The Journey Home.

Our housing crisis is far from over. While advocates and politicians work toward solutions, one thing the rest of us can do is work toward a greater understanding of the issue.

— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 – jonathan@bikeportland.org

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NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. BikePortland is an inclusive company with no tolerance for discrimination or harassment including expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

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9watts
Subscriber

Both very nicely done. Thanks for introducing us to those. Even if we can’t as individuals solve this problem tomorrow, we can learn to be compassionate.

Scott Kocher
Guest

Great videos. Helping people experiencing homelessness and having safe and comfortable sidewalks and paths are necessary–and compatible–priorities.

Bill Stites
Subscriber

Thanks Jonathan. I support your “off-topic” post wholeheartedly.

nuovorecord
Guest
nuovorecord

If you watch the credits of Neidorf’s film, you’ll see that River City Bicycle owner Dave Guettler is one of the funders. Kudos, Dave! Money well spent to help increase understanding and compassion around the issue of homelessness!

David Hampsten
Guest
David Hampsten

The Ted talk on the history of homelessness is way oversimplified, though given the audience and the time constraints, I suppose it has to be.

There has been mass homelessness since America was first settled by Europeans, who basically imported their lack of compassion for the poor to the new world. Up until the 1980s, anyone could be locked up for any sort of “mental illness”, including being gay, having birth defects, alcoholism, ADHD, drug addiction, or for being homeless, so you didn’t “see” many homeless folks. The “deinstutionalism” of the 1980s was in response to a recognition that all humans have basic rights (from the Jimmy Carter presidency); unfortunately, it occurred when Reagan was cutting the Federal deficit by cutting all social welfare programs (while cutting taxes for the rich and buying more weapons), so the funding cut numbers are quite accurate. Aside from that, I thought both videos were excellent.

Spiffy
Subscriber

those videos moved me… thanks…

when friends visit from out of town I usually take them on a ride by a homeless camp to highlight what others are going through while we’re having a fun lark… it’s a stark contrast to our privilege… these people are part of our community…

Steve B.
Guest
Steve B.

Thanks for sharing these important videos here on BikePortland, Jonathan.

Ted Timmons (Contributor)
Editor

Thanks. It’s such a nuanced issue. The homeless (whatever term you want to use, just consider it shorthand) are causing problems (trash, violence against other homeless and non-homeless). They are also humans who deserve better. It’s sad that some things are considered a universal right and others, yet having a safe roof over your head isn’t.

My heart especially goes out because there appear to be many mental health issues, which hasn’t been very well addressed since decisions ~33 years ago. And on the other hand, that makes interactions with some homeless individuals range from weird to scary.

I’m happy to see this on BikePortland, because BikePortland represents what Portland SHOULD be. It isn’t just “oh look at the new eTap gruppo”. Except for my stuff. I like having silly videos on here.

endo
Guest
endo

I just don’t know. Homeless camps disproportionately affect cyclists, they create danger on the routes we travel (Springwater corridor trail) which makes people less likely to want to bike, which means more people end up in cars. I support finding a fix for homelessness, but if the solution is allowing them to take over cycling routes and instill fear on places I frequent then I think that’s a problem.

endo
Guest
endo

And by the way, many of these homeless camps are also bike chop shops, which means that some portion of them are also responsible for the out-of-control theft of bikes in this city. Those people need to be rounded up and thrown in jail.

RH
Guest
RH

Must be nice waking up to a million dollar view of the Fremont each morning, chatting with your neighbors daily, and sharing a free meal with them. Meanwhile, I am running around trying to get ready for work, learnng new skills from library books, paying taxes/bills….

Paul Z
Guest
Paul Z

The major point I would disagree with in the TED Talk is that rent control would make a significant difference. My impression is that a large percentage of the homeless do not have an income source, i.e., a job, that would allow them to pay rent, unless it were heavily subsidized.
However, I do believe no one should be expected to live outdoors in a city. Shelters should be made available for everyone without housing.

tnash
Guest
tnash

I think we should petition the city to give every homeless person a bike–bikes can help people in so many ways…it would lead to many of them gettin off the street

buildwithjoe
Guest

Please more journalism from the victim’s voices. We have a housing disaster. Less of Joe Kurmaskie who is spreading “news” that his kids bike day camp _Must_ be canceled due homeless. The paths have always been risky at night, and sometimes at day, but Kurmaskie’s misplaced “news”, and flames should be moved out of a bike community and into the hate speech arenas. Aka Lars Larson and the “business alliance” who love giving a podium to ” liberals” like Kurmaskie. http://www.larslarson.com/portland-lost-springwater-trail/

rachel b
Guest
rachel b

I would appreciate hearing more from neighbors.

SE
Guest
SE

I bike Springwater a couple of times a week. Many of my posts here have been of the gist “There but for the grace of God, go I”. And have advocated for some compassion, BUT ..

I still dislike when a camper stumbles out of the bushes straight in front of me and an emergency stop is required. Or when they scream at me for ???
(invading their territory ? Having a better bike ? I dunno ) Or doing the 5 yard stare at the ground to avoid broken glass. Or having to ask them to stop blocking the path and let me through. Or ….

Most of them are somewhat friendly , but there are a lot that really need help. IMHO, the city of Portland / council /Hales is failing the situation miserably. 🙁

maxadders
Guest
maxadders

Encouraging people to stay in wet, dirty, dangerous camps does them no favors. Our city is encouraging hundreds if not thousands of people who need immediate drug / alcohol / mental health treatment to NOT seek those options. Portland is promoting squatting, panhandling and substace abuse as a lifestyle choice.

I do not agree with those who defend these camps, because these camps aren’t working. They’re just making the situation worse– worse for the squatters, and worse for the people who have to deal with their impacts.

No more enabling. No more excuses. I want results.

redhippie
Guest
redhippie

buildwithjoe
Please more journalism from the victim’s voices. We have a housing disaster. Less of Joe Kurmaskie who is spreading “news” that his kids bike day camp _Must_ be canceled due homeless. The paths have always been risky at night, and sometimes at day, but Kurmaskie’s misplaced “news”, and flames should be moved out of a bike community and into the hate speech arenas. Aka Lars Larson and the “business alliance” who love giving a podium to ” liberals” like Kurmaskie. http://www.larslarson.com/portland-lost-springwater-trail/
Recommended 1

Ok, Ok, We get it. You don’t like Kurmaskie and Lars Larson. They don’t have view points that jive with yours.

redhippie
Guest
redhippie

I recently took a trip to Chicago and was really amazed how small the homeless population is in comparison to Portland. They were also much less aggressive and were pretty low key. When I got back, I also saw how much dirtier and nasty our streets physically are in comparison.

We have become a magnet for the homeless and other cities are happily obliging by encouraging their populations to hop a bus to the rose city. The city is only empowering and emboldening the aggressive behavior I see on the streets where i work and the play grounds where I take my kids. I suspect it will have to get a lot worse (rapes on the springwater, higher crime rates, fires in the shanty towns, etc.) before the silent majority speaks up against the social justice warriors out there and demand an end to the grand social experiment.

Redhippie
Guest
Redhippie

Kevin
Where is the evidence that other cities are actively sending homeless people here? Portland has a program that buys a bus ticket to send homeless individuals out of state to friends or family, but I haven’t heard of any city “happily encouraging their populations to hop a bus” to Portland.
And what’s with the meaningless buzzwords, e.g. social justice warriors, grand social experiment, etc.? That does nothing to encourage a useful conversation. My understanding is that a homeless person is much more likely to assault another homeless person than anyone else. If your concern is cyclist safety, I’m pretty sure more people on bikes have been hurt or killed by people driving cars than by attacks by homeless people.
I agree that the proliferation of tent communities is a problem. Likewise, some critical bike transportation routes, such as the Springwater Corridor and the I-205 path have become much less inviting. But these concerns are pretty minor compared to the challenges of those living on the streets.
In my opinion, the focus of our community should be on helping these people find food, hygiene, transitional shelter, skills training, treatment, counseling, etc. If that happens the other problems will improve. And no, obviously there isn’t a simple solution that will achieve this. But I think prioritizing sweeps and harassment over assistance is misguided.
Recommended 2

The practice is well known and reported upon. Here is a link discussing the issue from a national perspective: http://www.ibtimes.com/homeless-bus-ticket-programs-across-nation-offer-little-accountability-poor-housing-2016812

Additionally, as part of the governments 2014 census, Chicago with a metro area of about 10 million had recorded 7350 homeless where Portland with a metro population of 1 to 2 million had 7988.

You tend to make out that we have nothing to fear from the homeless population and we only need to spend more resources to address the problem. This will only tend to increase the number of individuals coming to Portland seeking housing and social services. I’m all for helping my neighbors to a point. That point is where the quality of life of my community is compromised. So far, my kids school has had to cut back on afterschool activities to meet the mayors 5% budget request, I have suffered 2 property crimes in the last year that can be attributed to the homeless population, more homeless have been threatening towards the my neighborhood school (google “homeless clown mask”), there are multiple shootings within blocks of my kids school (Buckman). Personally, I would me up for the way NYC addresses the issue. Provide services for those that actually desire help and can be useful members of society, and lock up the rest 30 days at a time. Eventually, the ones that want help take it and the ones that don’t move to Portland.

BIKELEPTIC
Subscriber

I noticed a lot of comments about bike theft. About a year ago, the social service agency I’ve been working for was contacted re: bike theft and homelessness by a cycling mag. I coordinated with my executive director and PR coordinator to respond in a thoughtful way – but apparently my point-of-view as someone who works with the participants daily and is also a cyclist and the upper management who makes 8x more than me and doesn’t ride or even work with the clientele – just said, “I don’t see any correlation.”

This was my reply to my managers that never got reviewed or forwarded to the management.

I feel that the misconception that all people that experience homelessness are bike thieves is comparable due to the cyclists and multi-path users that are witnessing camps along the Spring Water Corridor, 205 and Johnson Creek bike paths with multiple bikes and parts scattered about their living space. While this is first of all an insinuation of theft, though I am not insinuating either way how you should interpret the scene, what I can tell you is this.

On any given night in Multnomah County, over 2,000 people are experiencing homelessness.(https://www.portlandoregon.gov/phb/article/513379) This is an experience that is not boastful or glamorized. People are not proud to be in this experience and for most people, this is a situation that they would like to remedy through access to services; housing, income development, mental health or recovery, domestic violence assistance etc. The percentage of people that are viewed sleeping in doorways, on the streets, in “homeless camps” and in other more public areas are a very small percentage of those that are literally homeless, many finding refuge in hidden places; friends and family’s homes, transitional shelters, motels, cars and more.

While crime is plummeting in many different major categories in the city of Portland, bike theft is on the rise. (http://bikeportland.org/2015/04/30/portland-crime-plummeted-every-major-category-except-one-142503) This is due to a two-fold phenomenon. One would ask the question is it really on the rise or are people just getting better at reporting it over the last twenty years with better social media. The answer is yes. Bike theft and better recovery due to social media and various apps have made it easier than ever to report and respond to thefts; making it easier for people to report crimes. There has been no study, nor has there been documentation that theft is higher with people of a certain type of population. This is considered profiling or scapegoating. Theft happens among all types of populations and economic types, to tie to someone’s mental health, drug addiction or lack of housing is to take the onus off of one’s safekeeping of their own property. Theft is never justifiable, however you should take precautions and lock your vehicle, have homeowner’s or renter’s insurance and register your conveyance with a bike registry app. This is crisis planning. Many life events require these precautions.

For people experiencing homelessness or for those that are in the low-income bracket, as I mentioned, it’s not glamorous to broadcast to the world, “I am poor.” For that reason, many of these people, if they had cars, attempt to retain them at all costs to establish that sense of “ownership” and control over their situation. It’s a way to get to appointments and job interviews. Lacking that, bus passes are sometimes difficult to come by if you are on a tight budget. Working with agencies, you may not be able to get as much travel coverage as you need through 2 hour or daily tickets. Bicycles provide freedom to travel to get to social service meetings, doctor appointments, pick up groceries – you don’t have to pay a fare; if you work long hours, you don’t have to worry about making the last bus at the end of the night. Bicycles provide that independence that many people need when they are getting back onto their feet. Unfortunately there are not enough agencies able to provide free and low-cost services to those that need these kind of barrier breaking transportation options. Many people that are homeless may purchase a bike from someone off of craigslist or someone just walking down the street with no knowledge of the history of the bike, just knowing that it’s cheap and it’s a solution. And in that moment they have unknowingly contributed to a bike theft. We need to get to the root of the problem. Not those that are try to make good intentions to better themselves with cheap options.