In case you missed it, our Public Relations Specialist Alexa Mason recently sat down with The Oregonian’s Anna Griffin to talk about Portland’s homeless crisis, an eight-week series the newspaper is working on. During Wednesday’s live chat, Mason spent some time answering reader’s questions about how we can help homeless men and women, and what Portland Rescue Mission is doing to give hope and restore life and healing to people in need. Here are some of the highlights:
Mason describes what Portland Rescue Mission does:
Portland Rescue Mission serves people in need by giving hope through meals, rest and safety and restoring life through recovery, life-skills training and community.
We see our role as helping people in need and helping them move forward in their life. In the community, people most know us for providing shelter, as we are the largest shelter provider in Portland. We offer meals, 24/7 restrooms and many other services out of our Burnside Shelter.
We also know addiction recovery is a huge need in our community and that is another service we offer in our New Life Ministry facilities — Shepherd’s Door and The Harbor — for women, children and men.
Mason on the value of giving money to an organization like Portland Rescue Mission:
By providing for people in need, you remove some of the barriers that so many people face that don’t have enough money to get their basic needs met. …
All of the services Portland Rescue Mission offers are free of cost to the people who need them, and we found that by doing that, we give people hope. By giving people hope, they actually begin to build relationships with staff that can then walk with them as they move toward housing, employment and their own sustainable living off the streets.
People are not being flown or bussed into Portland. There are people who come to Portland to receive services, but most people are not coming to Portland already homeless. Many people come to Portland for jobs, family or other relationships and connections they have. Then, certain situations will happen that lead to them being homeless. So it’s not the social service agencies attracting people to Portland, but many other factors that bring people to the city.
Mason on the difficulty of how many people define homelessness:
A common problem is how we use the term ‘homeless people.’ People are experiencing homelessness. The focus there is, people. And if we take the focus off of the word homeless, and put it back on people, that takes our focus from the negative stigmas of homelessness and broadens the conversation to the realities that any person can face that leads to homelessness. This includes domestic violence, drug addiction, traumatic events like sexual abuse, job loss, mental illness, etc.
At Portland Rescue Mission we have programs for men and women who are both capable and willing to find jobs and employment, and they work with our staff to do just that. That’s the real story that is often missed.
Mason on whether or not people should give money to panhandlers, and if not, what else might be helpful:
A few months ago I traveled around Portland, both downtown and out east visiting the Hollywood District too, and I discovered a few things. First, several people said that personal acknowledgement was the best gift someone could give, and in many cases, even better than money. Actually stopping to say hello is really meaningful.
Many of the people I spoke to were homeless, nearly all of them in fact … and they told me that many of the people they know “flying,” “signing,” or “flying signs” (whichever term you prefer) aren’t necessarily homeless. I haven’t ever counted, so I can’t say for sure, but that’s what I recall from that experience.
Mason on readers’ reaction to The Oregonian’s series, entitled “Our Homeless Crisis”:
It appears that the response is as complex as the issue. Homelessness is complex, and since it is a community issue, people have a real role in it –even if they don’t think they do. The reality is, if you love Portland, as we know our community does, and see someone who is struggling, you care. Portlanders care, and we don’t like seeing the effects homelessness has on our community. So, I’m not surprised by the “decidedly mixed” response to the series.
I am encouraged by readers taking the time to learn and digest all the information that is being shared. My hope is that from this, people will respond by asking what they can do to help.