Falling through the Cracks

"Living in a van down by the river!"...for me, I'd call that a good night! Most nights that I'm out traveling, I'm finding sleep between rumbling semis at a rest area/truck stop or in a shop parking lot (if I'm lucky). Sometimes I just find a quiet residential area and roll in late at night. Quietly park the truck/camper/trailer and take the dog for a quick walk and then bed down. Always on the move before 7am so as to not bring attention. Sometimes, a large hotel parking lot will do. And once in awhile, I wind down a national forest road and sleep beneath the stars out in the woods. But most often, I'm right in "it". I'm in the belly of cities as most folks are tucked beneath their covers and behind locked doors. Fueling the truck before finding sleep, or a late night grocery run for the standards (avocados, nuts, coffee, vegis) all gives you a viewpoint I don't think most see. And when you are sleeping out on the street your street smarts have to keep you safe. You are tuned in just a bit more than your average person driving back to their home on a route they do daily.

There are no "office hours" for this job. I wait for traffic to subside and then I drive by night with the big rig pros who are more predictable on the highway than a texting commuter.

I lived in Portland from 2000-2004. Right out of college I moved west and settled into the "home of the strange". But, everyone would say how Portland had that small town feel for a big city. And it was true. The quadrants of town and nano-hoods really let you feel a sense of community. It was charming and electric. Especially in the spring when all the winter moisture fueled an incredible bloom of flora in the streets. This is still my favorite part of Portland and Seattle. I still enjoy leaving the arid sunny central Oregon to arrive in these two cities and breathe in the fragrance from the springtime bloom.

Some say change happens slowly, but if you live in these cities you have seen the homeless and drug epidemic explode. Every bridge and building overhang has occupancy and the cities seem to only have options that resemble sticking your finger in a leaking Dam hole. I took a walk this morning in Portland. About 5 city blocks in an area of town that hosts restraunts/bars/retail/apartments/homes. I left the dog in the truck because there is just too much bad stuff for him to get into with his curious snout. Two weeks ago, I took my family to Portland to visit OMSI. My 6 year old really wanted to see Burnside Skate Park so we went down to watch for a bit. They got to see a couple drug deals go down and walk around a few discarded needles on the sidewalk. We got out of there as fast as possible. My "spidey sense" while at the park watching just said to keep moving. Two days later I biked along Portland's beautiful riverfront to get to the Pearl District's REI. The cherry trees were in blossom along the riverfront but the beauty of this sight and smells was juxtaposed by the squalor of drugged out encampments and strained humans bedding down at the end of their high. And to be fair, not all homeless are choosing the high life. Some are deeply suffering from mental illness and some just can't find work or afford to make ends meet. The street doesn't know the difference and I think that it is easy for most folks to not see the difference either.

I'm sad to say that I don't see solutions. I see "splints" and "bandages" and sometimes "coffins" but there is no solution to the desperate crimes and struggle all over the city now. Everyone's car is subject to window shopping now days in Portland/Seattle/SF/Sacramento. The thief that feeds their hunger feels justified. The homeowner that peers through their drapes at any noise outside is conditioned to be watchful and guarded. It feels like war now.

Encampment along a very busy Sandy Blvd, SE Portland

I was told that this building has to get painted every 3 weeks

A sleeping bag and makeshift shelter beneath this overhang

4 basecamps along the sidewalk

That is about 30 tents under this I-205 bridge


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