As an alcoholic who, after being “terminated” from a desirable cooking/living situation at an island inn off the coast of Portland, spent some time on the streets of Portland, I was unpleasantly surprised by Robin Rage’s self-pitying, inaccurate depiction of the circumstances facing the homeless in this city [“Notes From a Cold Peninsula,” February 2017].
It starts with a quote from Wynterjade Eclypse lamenting that “I ain’t ate” by 11:30 on a Sunday morning. This person could have eaten breakfast and lunch by then at the Preble Street Resource Center’s soup kitchen. Have you ever eaten there? It is unbelievable. Breakfast often consists of toast or bagels (with cream cheese or peanut butter), fresh-cut fruit, numerous cereals (from Froot Loops to Kashi; guess which is more popular), oatmeal, eggs, fried potatoes, some sort of healthful soup (one day black bean/kale), and other entrées. How do two-thirds of the recipients repay the caring of the staff and volunteers? By leaving an absolute mess and frequently complaining about the food. I am guessing there is some much-warranted compassion fatigue amongst those staff members and volunteers.
Nobody is lacking for clothing. One morning a thirty-ish man sat by me in the soup kitchen begrimed from his “active lifestyle.” He told his friend he was going upstairs to the clothing room. Fifteen minutes later he returned, looking like a J.Crew ad. I have seen homeless people in very nice $200 or so North Face parkas, and two days later the coat is filthy. This leads to the phenomenon of “disposable clothing.” The garbage cans around Preble Street, the Oxford Street Shelter and Amistad are frequently full of clothing that has been worn and is in need of washing. Why bother when there’s plenty more free clothing?
Plus, any and every toiletry you need is available, free. Robin Rage stated that he often had to choose warmth over cleanliness. Ridiculous. Preble Street and Amistad have showers and washers and dryers, and the Oxford Street Shelter also has showers. If you’re truly intoxicated or drug-addled, shelter staff or the police will make sure you make it to Milestone, which offers a warm, safe environment, a good meal, a mattress and showers.
Is Robin Rage incapable of working whatsoever? While a percentage of the Portland homeless are mentally ill or physically handicapped, I was stunned at how many young, capable, healthy individuals simply hang out all day and night. They race around in little packs getting high, noodling around and “hooking up.” Rage, by his own admission, enjoyed smoking spice. How many homeless bemoan their lack of money but have cash for cigarettes, Natty Daddys, and their drug of choice?
The Portland media regularly laments the “opioid epidemic” and drug abuse in Portland. People don’t want to acknowledge it, but a lot of people who first take opiates and smoke spice and crystal meth were up to no good in the first place! Granted, it is truly sad when someone, say, has surgery, is prescribed opiates and becomes addicted. That, though, is not the case of the majority of Portland’s opioid “victims.” The media implies that this epidemic is akin to AIDS, typhoid, or some sort of wind-borne miasma that afflicts individuals. That’s simply not true.
I have overheard, numerous times, healthy men in their twenties, thirties and forties aggressively griping about the fact that their apartment voucher has not come in. There are simply not enough vouchers. Everybody who wants free or subsidized housing cannot have it.
It reminds me of Yeats’ “The Second Coming”: “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold / Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.” Society can only do so much. There are healthy, young homeless who simply live to party in their particular way. The money is there, but it needs to help the mentally ill, physically afflicted, and aged — not opportunists.