Writing doesn’t pay
all the bills, so I spend my weekdays working as a receptionist in Portland’s South Waterfront area. The area attracts a lot of upper-middle class residents. Portland Trailblazer Robin Lopez actually lives just a couple of blocks away. I don’t blame them, the buildings are lovely. Even the one I work in on the far South end.
At the front desk I get to look out the floor-to-ceiling windows that wrap around almost the entire first floor. Usually I enjoy people watching and counting the number of cars that turn the wrong way down the one way street. It helps to pass the time. However, yesterday, that view turned my afternoon into an extremely traumatizing experience.
As I sat there answering the phone, I looked up and saw a very large, seemingly disoriented Black man in the middle of the street. The man was naked from the waist down and used a walker to slowly make his way up the street. As if his nudity and grotesque size weren’t alarming enough, the man also took a few moments to defecate on either side of the building. Yes, he took a shit in the street.
Everyone in the neighborhood freaked out and police were called. It reminded me of the recent Vice article about all the folks in Old Town Chinatown who shit in the street as well. I honestly hadn’t read the article, only the headline. I laughed because I recently mentioned how foul the neighborhood I worked in smelled and compared it to the smell of Chinatown. I took the time to read the article today and I found it interesting. They focus on the homeless problem in the area and how that leads to a lot of human feces in the street.
Before the major crack down on hip-hop, Chinatown was home to many events. We had Massive and tons of shows at Crown Room, as well as shows at Someday Lounge. Beauty Bar and Berbatis were always crackin’. No doubt, we’re all familiar with the homeless folks who hung around. And the smell, so the article didn’t surprise me in that respect.
What I did find funny was this line, “Every year, Portland spends about $30 million on homeless resources, making it a Mecca for transients.” Really? I know people do come to the city in hopes for a new life and a better chance, but what exactly is the city doing to help the homeless? If I remember correctly, it was the hip-hop community who raised more than a truck load of blankets, coats, and other clothing items to give to the homeless. And it’s the city that allows them to be arrested and stripped of those items.
If I remember correctly it was Jessie “Ozone” Sponberg, a member of the hip-hop community who put on the event that raised those blankets, and it was WOHM who sponsored the Friendly Fire Compliment Battle that evening. It was also Sponberg who used to collect free chalupa coupons after Blazer games to pass out to the homeless so that they could have a warm meal AND a safe place to use the bathroom. And all of that was done without millions of dollars. So what is it the city does with $30 million to help the homeless? Take away the land they’ve been living on? Arrest them? Withhold their belongings? I don’t know, something just doesn’t add up.
I think the Vice article did make a very valid point though:
“Ten years ago, Portland was nothing more than the second-biggest city in the drab Pacific Northwest, but it seems like every day some national publication has it atop some internet click-through best-of list. Many out-of-town visitors I talked to in Old Town said they were shocked by the state of the district. Few imagined that waiting in line for a doughnut, or taking a picture under the neon Portland sign, would mean tiptoeing over turds on skid row.”
In this era of Portlandia, Grimm, Leverage and the like, Portland has been given a particular image in the media. A town of hipsters and art, neat architecture and liberals. Outsiders fall in love with it. They buy into the romance of the city without any knowledge of our dirty little secrets. They never see cops shooting unarmed Black men or homeless people pooping in the street. They don’t put birds on that. They hide that. And as long as all the problems we have in this city remain hidden, those of us who deal with them will suffer.
Minorities, the poor, the homeless… it’s as if we don’t exist. We can write a million stories about the oppressed classes here, but all of that will be overshadowed by Fred and Carrie’s book shops and birds, or detectives cracking cases and the supernatural. Nobody wants to look at the negative. Not even the mayor. I’m sorry, especially not the mayor. I guess it is nice to be able to point to a cable show and say, “This is my city.” But its awfully hard to buy into it, when you’re stuck here smelling all of the shit.