Wednesday, October 28, 2009

An Open Letter to Portland Officials

A letter to the city officials of Portland, sent today:

My name is Steve Kimes and I have been a pastor among the homeless and the mentally ill in Portland and Gresham for 12 years. I have also led community meetings of the homeless communities in East County.

I want to thank you, as a city official, for allowing there to be discussions about homelessness in Portland. There are essential issues being discussed and I have hope that some good conclusions can be reached. I would like to make the following points that perhaps have not been thought of.

The homeless are citizens
Perhaps the homeless do not pay as much in taxes because they have no property, but that does not make them less than any other human being living in Portland. Although they are often labeled as “transients” that is almost always a misnomer. Most of the homeless were born in Portland and Gresham and consider this their home town. The homeless love their city and many of them do what they can to assist, even if all they can do is to clean up the streets of its garbage.

The homeless are dehumanized
Instead of being treated as citizens, the homeless are treated as less than human beings. To be treated as a human being, authorities must recognize that we have the same human needs as any other person. But the homeless are treated as creatures who do not need sleep, do not need honor, do not need nutritious food, and do not need human contact. Within the city, the homeless are treated like dangerous animals.
If any middle class citizen were rousted in the middle of the night, told to leave the home they were borrowing there would be a great outcry. Yet this is a common occurrence for the homeless. And if they dare to speak their anger, then they are threatened, ticketed, tased or arrested.

Homelessness is more complicated than houselessness
To solve the issue of homelessness, it is not enough to get everyone a place to live. Getting a house does not give someone dignity or freedom from the scrutiny of police officers. Nor does it provide a means of income. There are a variety of issues that caused folks to end up on the street in the first place: social disconnection, mental illness, health, addiction, and especially the need for paid labor. The homeless want to care for themselves, they just need the opportunity to do so, on their own terms.

The first step is making homelessness legal
In order for the homeless to receive their rights as citizens and the opportunities for them to help themselves, they need to no longer be criminals. As long as it is illegal to camp near the services they depend on, they will be unable to sleep well, which means that they will never be able to deal with their issues. The medical community, the mental health community and the military all agree that lack of sleep causes a person to become disoriented and make poor decisions. As long as the camping ordinance exists, then the homeless will be treated as criminals because of the tragedy of their lives.

Please allow the homeless to be citizens.
Stop Hobophobia.

Steve Kimes
Pastor of Anawim Christian Community

For more information about the dehumanization of the homeless, please check out:

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