They’re always around. When we’re going to get our pastries or our drinks, they’re there. When we’re out on our Sunday morning stroll, their clothing is scattered on the sidewalks. A constant presence, even though I only give them a quick glance and rarely say anything to them beyond “Sorry”.
On the weekends, I visit my boyfriend in the Pearl District, one of the pricier neighborhoods in Portland. It’s the kind of place where you will find boutiques for little dogs and co-op organic grocery stores. And it’s where you will also find a large population of homeless people. There are encampments under the bridge and makeshift beds in the grass next to empty gravel lots. Even when the homeless remain out of view, you can see that much of the neighborhood itself has been constructed to repel them. Benches are made to be uncomfortable on purpose. One of the trendy apartment buildings has what I can only describe as a moat of water around it. The police try to clear out the sleepers, and residents are battling against an entire tent city which is planning to move in next door to them.
I can understand that. It’s scary walking past the camps. Many of the people are angry and mentally ill and unpredictable. They should be receiving care for their illness, but they won’t be, because in an age of government shutdowns, there are no resources for that sort of thing.
The world I currently live in tells me that this is all as it should be, that the homeless and the poor made bad decisions and are now dealing with the consequences. The people living in the glass homes above are smart, and the people living in the streets below are stupid and lazy. In fact, the wisdom of our age is that it’s any attempt to fix the causes of homelessness that is the true evil–those horrible do-gooders!–and not poverty and homelessness itself.
As with most of us here, the extent of my involvement is that I’ve occasionally given money, so I can’t pretend to offer some great solution. What I can say is that I’m unable to look around and believe that this is the good and natural way for human society to work, and that any change to it will ruin this perfect system. Perhaps I have not yet become adult enough, even in my middle age, to accept things as they are.