The homeless problem on the 205

Trash and tents scattered across the 205 bike path. Photo by Micky Marchello.

( Trash and tents scattered across the 205 bike path)

(A single homeless person in bum alley)(Interview with a homeless man on the conditions of the shelters)

The clouds were gray overhead in the mid morning the day after a slight shower. My father and I biked our way to the 205 bike path from Lents and began to head north with the roar of traffic by our side. The 205 path is normally littered with tents, man made shelters and people residing in the tall bushy areas and under bridges. When passing by a tent or recently littered area, the smell is hard to bear and makes your eyes water. It’s no secret that Portland has a homelessness problem, but many people struggle to understand the problems of homelessness and why shelters are not a perfect solution.

After about 3 miles, we finally saw the scratched scribbling that read “Bum Alley.” I couldn’t tell if it was the start or end, but it certainly was a sight to behold. When we first entered the alley, we could clearly see a  man flicking and shaking his hand at the air. From a distance we had no idea what he was doing. We passed by quickly and I thought maybe he was fidgeting with a pen of some sorts. We continued along the path with the scent of urine, cigarettes, and rotting food filling our nostrils. The path was filled with broken glass, and other debris commonly found after homeless people have passed through. It filled me with despair and a sense of hopelessness when I saw people living in this condition. When we reached the end, we continued across the street and along the 205 to the other part of “Bum Alley.” It was in the same condition as the alley opposite of it. This one, however, had more tents and tarps set up as makeshift homes. Most of the people that I saw were huddled in their tents seeking shelter from the outside elements. Clothes and trash littered the sides of the tents along with dark stains on the concrete path. After passing through, we reached the end of our journey and turned back into “Bum Alley.” We passed by the man who was sitting alone more slowly this time and we could clearly see he was getting ready to do heroin shaking the dark brown liquid to the bottom of the syringe. The trip back to my house felt long as I was thinking about what I just saw. The condition of “Bum Alley” is dreadful and no human should have to endure what these people go through

According to Pdxmonthly.com, Oregon ranks number two in a national ranking for percentage of homeless people who are unsheltered.14,476 is the estimated amount of homeless in Portland. A good number of these people live in the streets or in camps like the 205 bike path. After seeing “Bum Alley,” these statistics don’t surprise me. I decided that I would take a second trip a couple days later to interview a homeless person and see if the environment would change, or if the same people would stay there.

Just before the entrance of “Bum Alley” there  is a camp of homeless citizens outside. One of them was eating and another had a cart filled with clothes, food, and whiskey. The man with the cart had stringy, wispy white hair, and his yellow tainted beard stretched to the beginning of his tattered shirt. He was standing on the sidewalk corner waving to cars passing by. I crossed the street and talked to him with my dad tagging along. 

I wanted to know if the conditions on the 205 were better than going to a typical shelter downtown. He replied, “Living in a shelter you gotta checkIt’s gonna be really strict with lots of rules.There’s a lot of heroin, lot of crystal meth, and a lot of violence. When I go to the shelter sometimes I get bed bugs on the mattress…” 

According to an article written by Anna Griffin published on Oregonlive.com, “Most shelters are single gender, meaning couples must split up. Few allow dogs or other pets. Guests usually can’t carry more than a backpack inside, and they certainly can’t drink alcohol or use drugs. Anyone who has a problem with authority, crowds or noise will be uncomfortable.” Although some  prefer to stay on the 205 path despite the bad conditions like the man I interviewed, it seems that no matter where these homeless people go they don’t have many good or reliable options to help them out of their terrible situation.

What people in Portland are looking for is a long term solution. Take for example Rhode Island they are implementing a smart long term solution to homelessness. According to an article written by Madeline List published on Providencejournal.com, “The solution, according to a Providence College researcher, is to invest less in shelters like Cranston’s Harrington Hall and more in programs that house people quickly; supportive housing that includes access to services; and housing that is affordable for people with incomes below the federal poverty level.”  Some Oregon politicians like House Speaker Tina Kotek, are also drafting a legislative proposal to change single-family zoning in smaller cities and towns to make space for more affordable housing, according to an article written by Wriik Maui published on Pdxmonhly.com. With legislation like what Kotek is proposing with increased public housing that is affordable it can help decrease the population of people on the street and on the 205 bike path.

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