December 22, 2011 in Features by

Sleeping Outside City Hall: A Christmas Story

by Jessie Sponberg

(Ed’s Note: Huge thanks to Jessie Sponberg for sharing this story. Make sure you check out EfRytIng DRiVe (a night of 1000 blankets) FREE SHOW at the Bassanova Ballroom in PDX. We encourage you to bring hats, gloves, coats, scarfs, earmuffs, leggings, hoodies, socks, sleeping bags and blankets, and enjoy a night of hip hop. #OutHerePDX)

“This fucking sucks,” echoed through my head Wednesday night as I tossed and turned and shivered under the street lights in front of City Hall.

I was scheduled to speak at City Hall in the morning on the issue of basic human rights and the need for a comprehensive citywide effort to address homelessness. The City wants to allow people to sleep in cars in church parking lots–even though most houseless people do not have cars.

I decided to make my statement louder than my voice. There is a basic human right to sleep that is being ignored by City Council. They continue to send mixed messages and contradict their own efforts. I want them to undo the Camping Ban, which makes it illegal to lay a sleeping bag down anywhere within the city. I want them to stop harassing autonomous efforts such as Right to Dream Too (R2D2)–a successful, self-policed, self-funded homeless camp located on West Burnside. Currently it is up to faith based agencies (churches) to house the houseless in Portland on a first come first serve basis. There are no shelters currently available for single women without a history of abuse or drug addiction, and the number of homeless families has risen 35% over the last 2 years. On any given night, there are 1700 people sleeping on the streets of downtown Portland.

I figured, “Let’s make it 1701.”

I camp in the winter all the time. In the summer I go camping with no bedroll at all–just a dog, a shank and a flashlight–but my gear is top of the line. I broke out the zero degree mummy bag, a double lined ski-coat, a scarf, a hat and a ski mask that makes me look like Cobra Commander.

I thought I could pull this shit off no problem and make a huge statement about how much I support the basic human right to a good night’s sleep.

Dude, I’m dumb.

Ever wonder why Surivorman never had an episode where he slept on the frozen city sidewalk? Because it sucks! I couldn’t believe how miserable I was. The sidewalk is so cold that if you sat on it bare-assed your junk would get Christmas Storied to it.

So I’m sitting there maybe ten minutes, minding my own business, when an inebriated career transient, vigilante, zombiebum walks by me and drops a full two liter of Mt. Dew probably 2 feet away from me.

It explodes–starting a race with the elements to get the Appalachia Juice off me before I’m frozen solid. He tries to engage me in conversation; I don’t want none. He tries to engage me in violence; he don’t want none.

My greatest weapon is non-violence. My second greatest weapon is violence.

I decide to be the bigger man, and I go find some other houseless people to ‘brotherize’ with.

I met three teenagers. Their names were ‘that dude’, ‘that dude’ and ‘the chick’; their hearts, full of Christmas Spirit.

These kids had the crappiest blankets, the thinnest hoodies, and shoes with holes in them. I was walking around grumpy in some sweet sneakers, looking like a real spoiled kid. I was grumbling about having to take things to the next level, while they were stoked just to be a part of something bigger than themselves.

They were genuinely cheerful, even though they spoke often about how much they will miss having Christmas with their families.

These kids have to walk across town to find the only place to safely go to the bathroom, near the bus station. They constantly have to look over their shoulders for fear of zombiebums, street gangs and violent police officers. No cell phones or internet–just dreams.

I had more gear then all three of them combined.

Man I am a shallow prick.

This whole time I have been screaming at the top of my lungs about how bad these people need our help. I’ve been assholing my way into opportunities to save people that don’t really need to be saved. They just need to be treated fair. All they want is to be allowed to safely sleep on the streets.

Regardless though, they are happy with all blessing they should receive.

So I would love for those three kids to get geared up. Get them hats, scarves, and ski masks that make them look like popular cartoon characters.

They deserve it. Plus now I owe it to them. Those kids gave me a Christmas present more valuable than all the hats I could ever raise for them.

They gave me the gift of perspective.

Posted by