Getting Proactive about Homelessness

By Israel Bayer, who lives in both Seattle and Portland. Israel works with the North American Street Newspaper Association, and at Real Change, a community newspaper in Seattle, WA. He is the former Director of Street Roots in Portland. He also blogs at Rocket Poetry.

The Bush Administration's 10-year plan to end homelessness, and projects like Homeless Connect are bandages to a broken system. Here is a short list of alternatives for putting poor people back to work at very little costs to the taxpayer.

Art installations: Portland has a love for the arts. The city offers a substantial amount of money for public art projects compared to other local governments. Why not take 5% of the money going towards public art projects, and hire local homeless, and poor artists to install installations around the city. There's no shortage of artists on the streets. City Repair Project, and P;EAR would be great organizations to oversee an on-going project like this.

Coffee-carts: Portland can't get enough of the Java. For the price of 5-10 subsidized coffee-carts (very low-cost) you could employ 10 workers at a living wage. The money made from the carts would subsidize labor costs -- and the city wouldn't have to pay a dime for on-going operational costs.

Veggie/hotdog carts: Same premise.

Street cleaners: Pay several homeless workers to clean the bus malls. (I believe a program like this was already in place through the Portland Business Alliance when the respected Kevin Smith was living, but has since been slashed from the city's budget.) Street cleaners could also be hired to work high traffic areas along 23rd Avenue, Alberta, and Hawthorne. Contracts could be given through ONI, or Southeast Uplift.

Parks cleanup: Same premise as street cleaners. Citizens often complain, and sometimes, rightfully so about the amount of debris built up by people sleeping on the streets in public parks. Why not hire people on the streets to clean certain high trafficked areas. Contracted through Parks and Recreation, or a group like JOIN.

In an effort to work with the private sector, who according to the PBA, is up to it's neck with homelessness, and panhandlers throughout the city -- private companies would also benefit from joining in such an effort. Hundreds of thousands of dollars are thrown away in dealing with poverty through the guise of public safety.

Portland has dropped the ball on homelessness by backing the Bush Administrations short-sided approach to dealing with more than 3 million people sleeping on America's streets after shelter beds are full. I understand hands are tied, but that doesn't mean the city can't be proactive. We don't have to accept what the Administration is giving. Portland can do better than that.

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