Portland Postscript: The Disgrace of Homelessness

Click to enlargeI had intended my post this morning, a photo I took while crossing the Burnside Bridge on foot, to be the last post related to my recent trip to Portland, Oregon.

But then, my blogging friend Naomi Baltuck (whose awesome blog, Writing Between The Lines, is very much worth checking out!), left the following comment on that post:

This is a gorgeous photo! I love the color and composition! Very artful.

I know. Sweet, and a wonderful compliment, right?

Truth is, I can’t, with a clear conscience, accept the compliment, because…the photo is a fraud.

You see, there’s nothing gorgeous, colorful, or artful about the fact that, just out of frame, several buildings down, there was a line of people two blocks long at the Portland Rescue Mission.

We’d been warned by a Portlander, at a streetcar stop on the south side of the Willamette River, that our plan to walk over the Burnside Bridge wasn’t the greatest, that there were several buses we could take across, that the neighborhood just on the other side of the bridge was, he said, “…unpleasant. Not unsafe. You won’t get mugged or anything. It’s just unpleasant.”

I had a feeling I knew what he was referring to. My wife and 15-year old son had seen numerous homeless people on our walking excursions throughout the city. But, nothing had prepared me for the sight of so many people lined up at the mission on a cold night, nearly a stone’s throw away from one of Portland’s proudest achievements, the Pearl District, a section of downtown that had once been a crumbling mess of urban industrial decay, transformed in the late 1990s into an upscale neighborhood of pricey restaurants, shops, and condominium complexes.

So, the Portlander we spoke to was right, it was unpleasant, but not for the reasons I’m almost certain he was hinting at.

There was nothing unpleasant about the people who were lined up at the mission.

No, the unpleasantness, for me, was that they served as a stark reminder that we continue to allow, in our country, 1% of the population to hoard unthinkable amounts of wealth, living in decadent luxury, while the middle class is shrinking, and poverty is on the rise.

It’s a national disgrace.

Here’s a photo taken outside of the Portland Rescue Mission…


…in the late 1940s, during the post-WWII economic boom.

So much has changed since then, but sadly, some things have stayed the same.

12 thoughts on “Portland Postscript: The Disgrace of Homelessness

      1. Not at all. I was so focused on my response to your statement and the photo and the post as a whole that I forgot to thank you for your kind words in regard to me and my blog.

  1. Sitting in my office here in Western Australia, in the relative heat of summer and flying around the countryside with work its difficult to imagine the hardship these people suffer. In that respect I find your post hard hitting and honest, but sadly a common theme as I see from my internet excursions.

    Please forgive my ignorance however – but I don’t see the connection with the photo to which Naomi commented. Is this the Rescue Mission? If so, why the clandestine and grainy Dutch angle…?

    1. Hi Jon! Thanks for your thoughtful post. It’s cold, rainy winter here, so could you send some of your sunshine our way?

      As for the photo Naomi commented on,, as I mentioned, the mission is just a few buildings away and can’t be seen in the photo. I took the shot before I’d reached the mission on my walk across the bridge, because I thought, and I still think, it presented artistic possibilities.

      But, when Naomi used her particular words to compliment the photo, I just couldn’t not tell the rest of the story.

  2. If a middle class person worked hard their entire life (10 hour days on average) and was never given anything free, and has become successful, are they hoarding even though they give generously (some give extremely generous contributions) to charity and family and friends in need? Does it make sense to penalize someone who has worked hard or should they not work as hard so they an be in a lower income tax bracket? Is giving 35 percent of every pay check to the government hoarding too? (I pulled that number out of the air.) In addition, if you over-tax business owners chances are they will have to lay off employees to pay the extra debt. Shouldn’t we concentrate on education and job training to get these poor people off the streets? In addition, there are people capable of working (not everyone is capable) who have never paid taxes and are receiving help from the government. Some of these people have no intention of getting a job and getting off of welfare. I have met some of these people.

    1. Dorothy, thanks for your comment.

      You start off talking about penalizing hard-working middle class people, and I wonder how you thought I was advocated for that. I mention in the post that the middle class is shrinking, which is hardly something I approve of, and I make it pretty clear that part of the problem is that 1% of the population, the ultra rich, are the folks who aren’t paying their fair share.

      As for the argument that increasing taxes on the wealthy will result in job losses, that’s an idea that has been clearly debunked. The truth is, if the ultra rich (only 1% of the population) paid their fair share, allowing us to actually lower taxes for people who make less money (99% of the population) you’d see 99% percent of the population having more money to spend on the goods and services that businesses provide, which would then result in the business owners being better able to afford to hire more people. In fact, they would have to hire people in order to keep up with the increased demand for their products and services.

      So, raising taxes somewhat on the ultra rich, the very people who can afford to pay more taxes, and lowering taxes somewhat for everyone else, folks who currently struggle to pay the taxes they owe, would actually lead to more jobs and an overall stronger economy.

      The ultra rich and corporations have been enjoying massive tax breaks for a long, long time, and still massive unemployment exists, which proves that giving tax breaks to them does not lead to job creation.

      As for your other points, no question we should invest in education and job training. Sadly, if the anti-tax folks get their way, the government has no money to put into programs like this. (I’d also add that our country spends WAY too much money on the military and on prisons, money that would better serve the country if it was spent on education and job training.)

      Finally, as for the folks who are capable of working but don’t, we’re not only talking about an relatively tiny portion of the population, but placing the blame on these people is the result of an utter lack of understanding about the very nature of poverty, especially poverty in a country where there is so much wealth and privilege co-existing at the same time. Many people born into poverty don’t see much hope at all of ever being able to work their way out of it, and people who fall into poverty had been working hard and still ended up in poverty, which erodes their hope that hard work can actually pay off.

      1. If middle class hard working people make it into the one percent, (many have over history, the American Dream and all) should they be penalized from working too hard and have to pay more because of their success? Are they different from the corporate greedy?

        Also, I know this is a rare situation, but do you know about Dr. Ben Carson’s background? He is the world renowned neurosurgeon out of Johns Hopkins. I just wrote a blog about the highlights of his recent speech. He grew up in dire poverty but he said that his mother would never allow herself to be a victim. He learned that he had control of his destiny even though he was poor. I recommend his book, it is a great read.

        1. Dorothy,

          I think it makes all the sense in the world if people who are able to make their way up the ladder continue to think about the people they left behind and begin to pay more in taxes now that they are making more money. It’s not a penalty, as you refer to it, it’s a social compact, a way of giving back to the society that made it possible for you to advance, so that others might have the same opportunities you had.

          I have no doubt that some folks, like Dr. Carson, are able to break out of poverty and succeed, but the numbers make it clear that he’s in the extreme minority of cases. That should tell you something.

          1. Taxes go up proportionately and I guess 35 percent is not enough to deduct from someone’s pay check that they earned. Think about taking 35 percent out of your pay check.(I think that some will pay 39 percent soon.) Is it possible that hard work made it possible for some people to succeed while others don’t want to work as hard and simply punch the time clock.I feel that if someone works hard for long hours, they should determine their charitable contributions and pay the government a fair amount. However, I don’t trust the government to invest hard earned tax payer dollars wisely. The government wastes tax dollars daily on companies like Solyndra who defaulted on a $535 million loan. Can you imagine how many poverty stricken people we could feed and clothe on $535 million. The Solyndra loan is a drop in the bucket compared to other government waste. Here are a few more examples http://www.opposingviews.com/i/politics/top-10-examples-wasteful-federal-spending-2012 http://www.investmentu.com/2012/February/examples-of-government-waste.html

            Please check out the web sites they were eye opening for me.

            By the way, congrats on Freshly Pressed

          2. Dorothy, at this point, I’m gonna let you have the last word, and I’m going to bow out of the debate.

            I appreciate very much that you’ve been civil, which is, in my experience, rare in discussions on politics and economics.

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