by Laurel Hayles for EDN
“…We’ve all seen the man at the liquor store beggin’ for your change….”
There is very little that is pleasant or attractive about the homeless, apart from offering opportunities for popular songs (a la Phil Collins, Bruce Hornsby, Everlast). As if it were possible to ignore them, the Occupy Eugene crew have pretty much shoved themselves down our throats to the point of nausea. But the fact remains: at best guess, there are roughly 20,000 homeless in the city of Eugene alone.
20,000 homeless. That is about a third of the population of Springfield itself.
Truthfully, if there was a way to prevent homelessness, we would all be more than willing to make it happen. But despite Occupy’s claims, there is simply no way to end this, short of establishing a communist society. As a single working mother myself, I can honestly say I bear little in the way of sympathy for those who are unwilling to work for a living. The fact is, there are not enough jobs for those who want to work.
But not all homeless are under- or unemployed, able-bodied folks who only want to be paid for providing goods or services. Many are mentally or physically handicapped. Some are true vagabonds, drifters wandering through the area in search of who knows what. A significant number are runaways, kids who feel more welcome on the street than in their homes.
A large percentage of the homeless have traded traditional families for the street community, where faults and flaws are more often accepted or even lauded.
So what, exactly, are we supposed to do? We pass them by, our gaze averted, huddled in doorways or on and under park benches, wrapped in sleeping bags and trash bags. We shake our heads and mouth inaudible replies when they wave their cardboard signs at us asking for spare change. There has to be a socially responsible, effective and constructive response we, as a community, can make.
And indeed, there are several options available to us.
David Gerber is no stranger to the streets. Once homeless himself, he has two college degrees and is an entrepreneur with a tangible goal: to end panhandling. Owner, editor, and creator of the Oregon Vagabond, a street newspaper published monthly, he offers employment to street people, paying them to write stories for the paper, and others as vendors who sell the newspaper at specific locations. Instead of putting out empty hands and begging, these people are actually providing goods and services in exchange for money – giving them not just funds but purpose, identity, and dignity.
Gerber has also started a nonprofit organization, the Homeless Outreach Team. This project targets panhandling specifically, stating in no uncertain terms how destructive this practice is. Many of the folks who panhandle are not at all looking for money for food, but rather to buy drugs and alcohol. Do we really need to encourage that? Instead, Gerber proposes to organize the community to offer skill training workshops and set up a labor pool. We know there are many in the homeless community that truly do not want to live on the streets. For those who are willing and able to work, why not give them opportunities to do so? Make a point of noting where the vendors are and buy a paper from them every month.
If you don’t work or live close to downtown, contact David and let him know where a location for a vendor is needed.
Another wonderful opportunity is “busking.” These are the street performers, individuals who entertain and delight us with their songs – indeed, the blues originated here. By all means, drop your loose change and dollars into those open instrument cases, and pause for a moment to enjoy the talents of these people. Just be sure you cast a discerning eye – not all people carting around guitar cases are, in fact, performers of anything besides chicanery. Support your local musicians!
There is no reason for those of us who feed and clothe ourselves and our families by the sweat of our brows to feel guilty for “having” when others do not. But we certainly can be more proactive in halting the devastating effects of a long-term down-turned economy.
Remember last month’s column, when I suggested we take a typical $30 per month “sponsorship” donation for a third world child, and instead put that money back in our own community? I’m going to repeat it again, here: 250,000 people working in the city of Eugene, donating $30 per month, would raise SIX MILLION dollars a year.
That, my friends, is a lot of peanut butter sandwiches.
Seriously, there are so many ways we, as a community, can help turn this situation from something embarrassing and uncomfortable into something amazing and beautiful.
First of all, we need to stop buying online and spend our money at home. One of the primary reasons why stores are closing and people are out of work is because we, as a society, have become entirely too comfortably lazy and self-indulgent. Unless you are absolutely bedridden, there is no reason why any of us need to buy anything online if it is available locally from one of our merchants. Any money you think you have “saved” by doing so has ended up costing us in increased taxes and skyrocketing inflation. Every dollar we spend outside of our local economy is lost to us, as a whole.
Think about it.
So, now that we are putting money back into the community by buying local products from local merchants – what’s next? Well, I for one know there are some things I absolutely abhor, but am required to do regardless of my loathing – taking out the trash and recycling, for example. Would you pay someone a dollar a day to take your trash bags to the cans, and then out to the street and back when they’ve been picked up? What if each person who is homeless and wanting to work “adopted” one city block, with an average of 10 houses per side.
That’s about 20 dollars a day, for approximately two hours of labor – right around minimum wage. Someone providing a needed and desirable service, and being paid a respectable wage to do so. Self-esteem and dignity for everyone involved. Sounds like a win-win to me.
And there are countless other tasks that we all have to do and dislike doing – mowing lawns, raking leaves, pulling weeds, painting porches; washing windows, scraping ice/snow, sanding and salting sidewalks – things that just need a willing hand. How much better for all of us if the folks who want to work could have the opportunity to do that, in turn taking their money and buying other goods and services in the community, continuing a chain of prosperity for the community.
You may be thinking, “So what? $20 a day isn’t going to get anyone a place to live or pay for utilities – what’s the point?” If that is what you think, think again. There is a lot of low- and reduced-income housing available, where $300 a month will get a clean room and shower and a safe place to store belongings. And how many of us have empty rooms that are sitting collecting dust and furnishings we haven’t looked at in years, that would rather be used and appreciated – and hey, there’s your $300 per month come right back into your pocket. How about that!
Alright. So now we are putting our money back into the community instead of into the black hole of the Internet, and we have given honest jobs to honest folks for honest pay. What about the people who can’t or won’t work – what do we do about them?
Well, for one, they aren’t going hungry – there are places all over town where free meals are provided every day. So stop giving your money to people who say they are hungry – they’re lying. Give your money, instead, to those agencies who are providing the meals. Donate your time to help serve those meals. Pack an extra peanut butter and jelly sandwich and hand it off to one of the huddled forms that are holding out an empty hand.
Shelters are available as well, although not nearly enough for 20,000 people. But considering we’ve probably put at least 10,000 people back to work with our street jobs program now, we only need to take care of those who can’t work. So donate your money, time, and gently used items to our local shelters – see below for details.
And for those who are just drifting through town, expecting us to support their wandering with no good purpose or intentions, let them know they are welcome to visit but will find no largess here for anyone who isn’t willing to work for their pay.
In short, we can, indeed, end homelessness in Eugene. We just need to stop squandering our money outside of our local community, make available a very tiny amount of money to support and encourage those who are willing to work, and stop supporting the drug and alcohol consumption of those who think cute cardboard signs with witty and clever or sad and heartrending statements can buy off our collective guilty consciences with money.
Stop saying, “I’m only one person – I can’t make that much of a difference.” Instead say, “I’m one of several thousand people – we are making a huge difference!”
– Be a wise money saver – buy local instead of online
– Volunteer at local shelters and soup kitchens
– Join local organizations to teach skills
– Donate clothes, appliances, etc. to shelters and thrift stores
– Offer to pick-up/deliver donations in your neighborhood once a month
– Support local musicians/artists/performers – not drug abuse and alcoholism
– “Adopt” a local agency with a regular monthly donation
– Trade odd-jobs and work for food, shelter, or a daily stipend
– If you have a local business, buy an ad or coupon space in the Oregon Vagabond newspaper
Here are some local agencies who need your help:
Eugene Mission – http://www.eugenemission.org/
Providing food and shelter to men, women, and families. The first three nights are free; after that is a $2 per night fee. Vouchers for free overnight stays can be earned by working
around the Mission. Three full course meals a day are offered as well as various snacks. The Mission has also started a community garden. The Mission needs clothing, food and
household items, as well as new toys and stuffed animals for the children. These donations support current guests as well as men and women who are moving out of the mission and
into their own home. Every bed is covered by a cheery quilt, so they always welcome twin-sized quilts and sheets.
ShelterCare – http://www.sheltercare.org/
Emergency Shelter and Support provides support and housing in community residential settings. Homeless families with children find shelter and support at Family Housing Program in Eugene and Brethren Housing in Springfield. The vast majority of families who complete their stays leave the shelters for stable housing.Transitional Services provides ongoing staff support after families leave shelter for housing in the community. Some families are interested in and will benefit from ongoing staff support once they find stable housing in the community. Transitional support for families is available to qualifying households. Programs provide staff advocacy and resources to a family for an appropriate period of time following their departure from shelter. Donations of money are always helpful, as well as bedding, towels, pots and pans, and other kitchen supplies to help transitioning families get started in their new residence. Please consider donating appropriate items, in new or near new condition, that you no longer need.
St. Vincent dePaul – http://www.svdp.us/
People living in cars or campers: contact the Overnight Parking Program. For families with children, call (541) 342-7728. For individuals, call (541) 461-8688
Families with children: contact First Place Family Center at (541) 342-7728.
Individuals seeking shelter during the day: contact the Eugene Service Station at (541) 461-8688. Location 450 Hwy 99 North in Eugene. Open 7 Days a Week from 8:00am to
7:00pm except 2nd and 4th Sundays from 2:00pm to 7:00pm.
Individuals seeking shelter at night: Egan Warming Center (only open when temperatures drop below 30 degrees between November 15 and March 30)
Other Ways to Give:
Money, Make a Bequest: you can support people in need by making a bequest to St. Vincent de Paul in your will.
Donate Stock: to donate stock to St. Vincent de Paul, please contact Rebecca Larson at (541) 743-7121.
Matching Gift: does your company offer a matching gift program? Double your gift’s impact by sending your company’s matching gift form with your donation to: St. Vincent de Paul, PO Box 24608, Eugene, OR 97402.
Donate Items: donations of clothing, personal goods, and other items helps us to provide these things to people in need, and to raise funds for our charitable programs.
Donate your Vehicle: St. Vincent de Paul can sell your vehicle, running or not, at our car lot. All proceeds benefit our charitable programs.
Sponsor a Benefit: we have three major events in the year, all of which benefit local kids. Sponsorships from businesses are crucial to helping these kids. Learn more about how your business can participate.
Locally produced and written by the homeless and homeless supporters, The Oregon Vagabond gives people an insight on street life. It also instills pride in people who would otherwise be at a loss for healthy activities to pursue. Support our vendors! The Oregon Vagabond’s mission is reducing homelessness and keep the streets a safe place to be. The Street Paper instills dignity, increases self esteem, and enhances public safety for the citizens of Eugene. We offer information about community resources through our publication, and a creative outlet for the homeless who write articles for the paper we distribute.
Spend an hour doing something for somebody in your community. That hour is recorded in the online software, Community Weaver. You then have access to the services offered by other members.
Volunteer your time, donate food and funds
This concludes the Adopt Eugene column – now it is up to you! Write to the editor, Eugene Daily News at firstname.lastname@example.org, join Pay It Forward ~ Eugene on Facebook, email to email@example.com, or contact David Gerber at firstname.lastname@example.org. Let us know what you are doing to end homelessness, child abuse, and the other amazing ways we are
taking back the city of Eugene and the larger Lane County community!