Eileen Brady: 751 reasons why we must focus on homeless children

By Eileen Brady of Portland, Oregon. Eileen is a candidate for Mayor of Portland. Learn more at EileenForMayor.com.

This week, as we gather with our families and loved ones to celebrate Thanksgiving, we must remember that over 2,700 of our neighbors in Portland/Multnomah County will spend the holiday without a home.

Even more disturbing are the 751 children that are homeless. The number of homeless families with children has increased by 35% in just two short years! Tomorrow, most of us will worry about eating too much turkey and stuffing. But hundreds of children will be worried about where they will sleep. That is simply unacceptable in a great city like Portland. We have to put an end to it now.

Job creation is my number one priority, but some of our citizens can’t hold down a job because they are in need of something more basic – a roof over their head. Parents can’t find work when they are busy trying to make sure their children stay warm.

When it comes to homelessness, there are several steps we must take, including job creation and increased funding for mental health services.

But today, I want us to focus on a concrete, foundational problem we must solve: moving our children out of homelessness. As Portland's next Mayor, I will get to work on Day One to identify every homeless family with children and get a permanent roof over their heads.

As Mayor, I will move hundreds of children out of homelessness during my time in office. This is a tangible, achievable goal. And we know it will be an ongoing battle as the homeless population is transient and ever changing. By focusing on families with children we can get ahead of the curve.

As taxpayers, the best investments we can make are in childhood programs focusing on housing, education and health. By investing early in our kids, we can give them the greatest chance for success in life and reduce the demand and costs of city services in the long run. I was privileged to help develop a similar strategy when, in 2007, Governor Kulongoski asked me to serve as a Vice Chair of the Oregon Health Fund Board. He tasked us with the job of creating a plan to expand health benefits to the thousands of Oregon children who were slipping through the cracks. Today, as the result of the work we did on that Board and the Legislature’s commitment, we now provide health insurance to an additional 94,000 kids. Now almost 95% of Oregon children have health care coverage.

When it comes to child homelessness, we can make the same kind of progress in Portland. Here are the specific steps we will take to achieve this goal:

Most importantly, we have to get serious about building a vibrant local economy that creates a strong tax base that can support core city and county services. Just as I have done throughout my career, we have to break through the myth in Portland that says we can't have a progressive city and a vibrant local economy. To me, this is about achieving true economic justice in our city.

Can we really claim to be a livable, progressive city when we have thousands of homeless families on our streets, including 751 children? A respected Portland homeless advocate recently told me that despite the progress that is being made he thinks we have “compassion fatigue.”

We have to continue to muster our strength and compassion to focus on our children and get them off the streets. Great cities take care of their most vulnerable citizens. Portland can and should be a great city.

Occupy Portland and its supporters have reminded us of the economic disparities that have been created in our country and in our city. I’m ready to get to work to bring good jobs back to our city and rebuild a thriving middleclass. Despite all the challenges we face, I still believe in the power of local people to solve our problems and build a thriving economy in our region. Let’s put that power to work to end homelessness for children and to create stability for our most vulnerable families.

Best wishes for a peaceful and joyful Thanksgiving.

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    I, for one, am really excited about this mayoral race! Diving into the specifics (finally!) and talking about the real issues (please, oh please, don't let the CRC dominate the debate) is exactly what PDX needs. For those newcomers: check out www.CharlieHales.com and www.JeffersonSmith.com. Read about them, dive through the grandiose rhetoric (they are politicians, after all) and you can see what great choices the voters are getting this time around.

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    on the more immediate front, the campaign is sponsoring a Children's Coat Drive: we're looking to gather 250 children's coats by the end of the year. you can drop these off at our HQ: 2944 SE Powell (next door to Hopworks). please help us do something meaningful right now by donating to this drive. thanks.

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    This are important ideas. Here's another one - churches get away with paying NO taxes while enjoying many city services. How about a FEE (not a tax) - to encourage them to support some of these efforts. For example - each church could be responsible for finding/buying 50 coats. I, for one, am tired of carrying churches and watching a situation such as homeless children grow worse and worse - with NO action by any of the many churches in this city.

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    It is sad to see this topic quickly turn into an attack on our churches. Perhaps Ms. Winters is unaware that 100% of the emergency shelter beds in Multnomah County for homeless families are provided by the faith community. You heard me right: 100%. Churches and other communities of faith are the only ones providing emergency shelter for those kids. And you want them to pay a fee?

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    Elaine Winters comment provided a moment of nostalgia for me. Talking with a friend about the days of the Free Speech movement at Cal in the sixties we both recalled proposals to (1) Tax Organized Religion and (2) Tax Organized Crime. Today with hundreds of billions laundered by banks like Wachovia and Wells Fargo for the sale of Cocaine no one goes to jail. Organized Religion convinces millions to support war if it will bring about the second coming of Christ. We know what is happening to free speech in America. There is no satisfaction in watching this happen.

    Then, on August 23, 1971 Lewis Powell issued his famous memo and the downward slide for Democracy in America began.

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    My first experience in dealing with homeless families was June 1972. Prior to that I had no idea that families could be homeless. Over the last 40 years the number of homeless families has grown exponentially and is now at epidemic proportion. Every night one of four children goes to bed without adequate nourishment. This travesty amongst others exists in the richest country on the planet. Many who blame the government programs for being wasteful don't even know the eligibility requirements to receive help from those programs. The faith community does not deal in eligibility or worthiness. The faith community simply tries to meet the overwhelming need that is always present.

    The faith community and government programs serve as a buffer between the persons and families living in abject poverty, hunger, chronic illness and homelessness and those of us who have never experienced any of these circumstances and/or have no real perception of how devastating it is to exist in such a manner.

    So while the 1% have their wealth grow, they leave it to the rest of us to keep them insulated.

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    I would love to see every candidate for office, even more so, every govt. official elected, have these values, and this priority.

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    Thanks for your commitment and column on this issue. Local officials are put into a position to have to deal with this issue more so than others and its great to know that candidates and Eileen are developing strategies to tackle the problem. Cheers.

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    When I was eight years old, our family of a single mother and three children was homeless for a time in the middle of winter, sleeping in a car that barely ran.

    Those who haven't experienced it can't really imagine the depth of humiliation, despair, and fear that such an experience brings to young children and to a parent who can't provide or protect her children from want and insecurity.

    In those days there were no programs for the homeless. There were no food stamps, or housing assistance, or medicaid, you simply didn't survive for long unless strangers or relatives helped in some way and took you in. What came to be called welfare assistance for dependent children, was only possible in most states if you had established residence for a year.

    The right wing would like to take us back to that inhumanity and abandonment of the most vulnerable and most in need. Today there are still women and children living on the streets of our towns and cities. I look for the day when that will not happen in our country, because we are committed to not letting it happen.

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