With today being National Homeless Persons Memorial Day, it was an opportunity to use today’s editorial to raise awareness about an issue that has often been dealt with through stereotypes instead of solutions…
There are a lot of things we’re proud of as Oregonians:
The scenic beauty we are constantly surrounded by.
Our generally progressive thinking on important issues.
Being outside of California.
Yet, amid all the things about Oregon that make us proud, there’s one thing I find it hard to admit about my beloved state.
While homelessness has declined around the nation, Oregon continues to have the highest percentage of homeless families with children. Between 2015 and 2016, the number of homeless families decreased in 41 states across America while, in Oregon, we experienced a 2.5 percent increase — the fifth highest in the nation.
Right after California.
According to a report released in November by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), more than half of Oregon’s homeless families (60.5 percent) are without shelter, either living on the street, in cars or in tents within that scenic beauty I mentioned earlier.
As much as we want to tell ourselves that most of the homeless are drug addicts, criminals or suffering from mental disorders, the fact is more than half of the homeless living without shelter in Oregon — more than 7,000 — are either school-aged or displaced veterans.
To bring it a little closer to home, each day, 92 students between the Siuslaw and Mapleton School Districts go to class, participate in school activities and finish the day without a permanent home to go to.
As it stands, 4.3 percent of Siuslaw’s student body is homeless. By comparison, the statewide average is 3.7 percent.
Before we can truly address the issue of homelessness, we must be willing to understand that the majority of those who are living their lives without a home aren’t those on the street whose faces we often avoid. The fact is, more often they are those whose faces we recognize each day but who never say a word about their homelessness. They are mothers and fathers, sons and daughters. They are students, cooks, part-time employees, unemployed veterans and senior citizens faced with deciding between medication, food or shelter.
By stereotyping the homeless as addicts or criminals, we insulate ourselves from the reality of homelessness, and how close we all are from a life without shelter. Truth be told, nearly half of Americans live less than two paychecks away from the kind of financial crisis that could lead to homelessness.
That’s not the kind of stereotype we want to think about, but one we have to be willing to accept in order to affect the kind of change that will, in turn, changes the lives of so many of our homeless in Oregon.
Today in Florence, we have an opportunity to affect that kind of change by participating in — and supporting — National Homeless Persons Memorial Day. It’s a day that has been set aside each year since 1990 to raise awareness of those who don’t have a place to call home, as well as remember those who have died as a result of being homeless.
Between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m., consider donating any of the following supplies (new or used) at KXCR Radio (across from the library on Ninth Street) or City Lights Cinema, 1930 Highway 101: Tents, tarps, sleeping bags, ponchos, warm waterproof jackets, blankets, gloves, warm hats and hand warmers, cotton socks, flashlights and batteries, fast food or grocery gift cards, canned foods and personal hygiene items.
While the bigger solution to homelessness in Oregon will require more than donations of food and clothing, our willingness to acknowledge the homeless in our community by offering support is an important step toward achieving something else we can all be proud of as Oregonians.
Ned Hickson is a nationally syndicated humor columnist with News Media Corporation and the editor of Siuslaw News. He is also the author of Humor at the Speed of Life, a collection of more than a decade of humor columns; and Pearls of Writing Wisdom: From 16 shucking years as a columnist, a writer’s survival guide. Both are available from Port Hole Publishing.