The Mid-county Memo is your newspaper. We want to hear from you. Discuss an important issue, respond to a request for comment or address a concern you want to call to the attention of the community. Letters to the editor will always be edited for space, style, grammar and issues of clarity. Please include your full name and identify the neighborhood in which you reside. We prefer e-mailed letters to the editor sent to Darlene Vinson at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please put “Letter to the editor” in the subject line. You may also mail your letter to 3510 N.E. 134th Ave., Portland, OR 97230 or fax it to 503-249-7672. Deadline for the March issue is Wednesday, Feb. 15.
Community discussions called “patronizing”
To the Editor:
Marc Jolin, director of the city-county Joint Office of Homeless Services, is quoted as saying, “Those are good questions for the elected leadership and a discussion for the community” (“Hansen Shelter gives hope, but problems remain” MCM January 2017).
Mr. Jolin, just because someone is elected to a position of leadership doesn’t automatically qualify them as a “leader”—ex-mayor Charlie Hales being a good example. Furthermore, this statement is typical of the ongoing patronizing meetings and town halls by city/county officials that are tone-deaf to citizen input and or solutions. Actual decisions are mostly a done deal prior to (most) community meetings … it’s still just “eat the pizza and go home.” The unspoken message is, “If it’s not our idea, it’s not gonna happen, period.” So much for citizen community involvement!
Perceptions don’t tell the whole story
To the Editor:
As a native of east Portland, I would first like to thank you for your dedicated reporting on this neighborhood I am so passionate about. I am writing today in response to Derek Andersen’s January article, “Hansen Shelter gives hope, but problems remain.” While I appreciate the attempt to give a voice to both sides of this important issue, I would like to point out the parts of the article I found offensive.
The way the article describes the residents of the Hansen Shelter is, to me, derogatory. Stating that “they had a certain style, and it was easy to make assumptions about them” is a generalization that effectively separates the homeless community into an “other” category apart from those who haven’t experienced homelessness. There are many ways residents may recognize each other, and I disagree that this assessment is “not just the uncharitable judgement of a more fortunate bystander.” According to the article, other markers of the generalized homeless person are their “prominent tattoos and piercings,” as well as their lack of “characteristic stylishness.” Many homeless people belong to marginalized groups, and their representation in this article doesn’t seem to do justice to the complexity of their lived experience. Perhaps interviewing a Hansen Shelter resident for this article would have been more effective than relying on preconceived notions and overheard Light Rail conversations.
We agree that “perceptions can be tricky.” I grew up and still live eight blocks from the Hansen Shelter, and I believe many negative comments made about the shelter in this article aren’t based on facts or statistics but perceptions and feelings. It is too early in the life of the shelter for us to know its full impact, but I find the focus on perception over fact to be troubling, particularly in our current political environment. I look forward to a follow-up article that can evaluate the success of Hansen Shelter and substantiate claims of a rise in crime, decline in business and lack of safety. If we must rely on anecdotal perceptions until then, I would like to add mine to the mix: I walk and use public transportation and a shared car to get around. While I appreciate the acknowledgement that different groups perceive threats differently, as a young woman I have never felt in actual danger in my neighborhood. This has remained constant throughout the switch of occupants at what is now the Hansen Shelter, and I challenge community members to look past their own prejudices when assessing risk.
I am not blind to the fact that east Portland has been “unduly” impacted by the lack of mental health services and increasing gentrification in the city. However, I have always been proud to be a member of the east Portland community and hope those interviewed for this article were correct in their thoughts that “neighbors are coming around to a more sympathetic view of the shelter.” I believe the entire community will benefit when we can look beyond the “influx of undesirable elements” and see the human beings behind the housing crisis and lack of mental health services in our city.
Thank you for taking the time to read my thoughts on this important issue and for all the hard work you do to report on the issues facing east county.