Home > Blog: Currents & Futures > Homelessness: A Different Understanding

By Denise Martin

It has been 7 weeks since my last OpEd about homelessness was published in the Oregonian. Some generous people came to the waterfront to offer condolences and donations. A lot of folks stopped by my bench in front of the Il Terrazzo (where I busk with my harp), to chat it up about this epidemic level problem that Portland is wrestling with. 

I am still homeless, and since my OpEd hit the street I realize that the misunderstanding about, and downright viciousness towards the poor is worse than I thought. So I would like to offer a beginner class in homeless math.

I got a job the other day after months of trying in two different states. I get $14 an hour plus beautiful food to eat in a top Portland restaurant. Sounds perfect right? Well, I don’t have a home. I just burned through my tax refund in a motel because my son had some medical issues to work through and his temporary housing ran out. There is no room for a 6’4″ teenager to join me in my car.

$2300 Motel 6 dollars later we are out of housing. I don’t get a check for two weeks and it won’t be enough to get housing. Nobody wants to rent a room to a mother and teenager. I have no credit to get into an apartment. It could be months before I can get us a home.

I have now joined the hundreds of thousands or more of working homeless. I am working at the restaurant during peak hours so I can’t busk for cash to pay for gas and food and parking until I get a check. So getting a job  puts us in a deep hardship. If I can’t borrow some money we are worse off now that I have a job, than I was when I was busking for a living.

I have to shower, look and smell nice for my job, and show up in clean clothes, but I am still homeless. And I have to pay for gas and parking or gas and Trimet.

Do you judge those homeless people you see holding a sign? What happens to them if they are lucky enough to find a bath, a phone, fake an address and get a job? The same thing that is happening to me. They have to work fulltime for weeks with no place to sleep, no food, no transportation money and no paycheck.

…I have no idea what Portland is planning, or not, to address the homeless crisis. But what I am dreaming of is a Job Fund and some Job Domes. You need support to get a job, and you need support for months after getting a job until your income starts to sustain you after a stretch in the proverbial ditch.

[We need a place where] we could put the tools that some homeless need to get employed, like charging stations for cell phones, a washer and dryer, computer station and toilettes. Cell phone charging stations in downtown are critical. You can’t wait for some agency to open on Monday so you can charge your phone to get a call back from a potential employer.

… [C]ompanies like Amazon can have Employee Domes on their grounds for those who are employed but not housed like I was when I worked at Amazon and FedEx. No employee should have to pee in a bush or hunt for a Porta Potty after an exhausting 10 hour day. Corporate America has to step up too!

I dreamed of making a difference for the unhoused Portlanders we see strewn all over the sidewalks, and for the ones you don’t see tucked in their cars like me. I failed. Not one promise that was made to me has come through and I am now in deeper crisis with Covid amping up for winter. Even though I have a job I have no way to get off the street. And my restaurant could be forced to close.

Please stop throwing around comments like “The homeless are just lazy because there are so many jobs and they just don’t want to work.” [I’ve also heard: “They are making so much money from government handouts, they don’t have to work.” – Shariff] I was able to walk into a top restaurant and snag a job while homeless because I have support and experience. I have nice clothes from my entertainment career, I have decades of experience in the restaurant field, I have a phone which I am able to keep charged because I have a plethora of battery packs that I can have a friend charge up for me. I have support and yet I still can’t get off the street because I don’t have money or credit. When I had my tax refund cash in my hand I tried everything to get housing and nothing worked. It is a long process. I have a teen and could not rent a room for anything, and $2300 gets you into an apartment if you have credit – it gets you a month of Motel 6 if you don’t.

I had a rich acquaintance once that looked down his nose at me and others for being poor. When his beautiful home in Paradise, CA burned to the ground he still had millions in the bank to recover. He was so devastated by his loss and overwhelmed by his circumstances that he called the poorest friend he had for emotional support. Losing your home and the life and dignity and safety that it provides is life-busting. Have a little compassion please! 

For Denise Martin’s original op-ed article, click on the YouTube link below:

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