This blog post is not what you think. I'm not buying the Oregonian or New York Times. I'm reading Street Roots, and here is why.
A Homeless Epidemic
If you live in Portland, or any major west-coast city, you've likely been hearing more and more about the homeless situation. More people, more camps, more panhandling, more more more. Its true, and while I'm not going to dig up the stats, I can tell you that as someone that has lived and/or worked in the city for the last 5 years, things have changed drastically and for the worse.
I've found myself with a mix of emotions over this topic. I've felt frustrated, I've felt sad, I've felt disgusted, I've felt helpless. I want to have empathy, but at times its hard. I struggle on occasion to be kind and caring, when the easy thing to do is to simply wish the problem would go away...away from my neighborhood, away from me.
So in an effort to do what isn't so easy, to act with compassion and care, I attended an open house put on by a few local non-profits and listened. Listening turned to learning and today I am better equipped to act with compassion and care, although it will still be hard.
The Epidemic is Not New
One of the key things I learned is that this epidemic is not new, its not a 2015 or 2016 phenomenon. Its been building and growing for decades, specifically when the United States federal government stopped funding mental hospitals and other social services aimed at those that need a little help. Ending the practice of putting the mentally ill into institutionalized facilities was probably a good idea. Doing it without any other safety-net, or any option for that matter, was a bad idea. An even worse idea was what I understand to be a general pull back from funding programs for the ill, impoverished, and the incapable. The decisions of the 1970's and 1980's are now resulting in major issues, like extreme homelessness in on of the wealthiest countries on earth.
In 2016, the problem is worse in many cities. Places like San Francisco and Portland having booming economies, thanks in part to the technology industry. With a boom comes higher salaries, and with higher salaries comes higher rent. Don't read that as economic cause & effect, its more complex than that, but lets move on with my statement as relative fact.
When rents go up for highly paid tech workers, you probably say that there couldn't be any impact on lower income earners, but thats just not true. As rents at the high end go up, rents in the middle market will likely climb to fill the gap, and then rents at the low end will climb to fill the new gap left by the middle. Additionally, the business value of apartments rises as rents (business income) rise, and the value of the land that dwellings live on goes to to match. We live in a beautiful, free and market based economy, but it has its drawbacks. Rising rents, even for the folks who don't have rising incomes in booming industries, become a reality.
Imagine you are a low income individual and your pay $500 a month for rent. Now its $650. A high paid tech worker says "so what" but that $150 makes all the difference in the world to others. That $150 a month increase could literally lead to homelessness. And as I understand, it not only could, it is.
Enter Street Roots
What does all this have to do with newspapers? I'm making a very small contribution now, which I feel very good about, thanks to a newspaper.
Street Roots is a newspaper, created by journalists and industry experts, that supports the homeless community in Portland. One of the ways they support the community is by offering an opportunity for people living on the street to earn an income, rather than beg for it. I learned about Street Roots when it's Executive Director and Publisher, Israel Bayer, spoke at the above mentioned community event on the homeless issue in Portland. I was blown away not only by the concept of Street Roots, but by the knowledge Israel dropped on the audience and what I believe is his unique opportunity to do something about the issues our city faces.
Speaking of the concept around Street Roots, here is the ore of it: People in need buy the newspaper for $0.25 and sell them for $1.00. They sell outside of businesses, where they might otherwise sit and beg if it weren't for Street Roots. Now they provide a service, a product, a fair trade, action.
I LOVE this idea! It offers dignity in what is a community we few opportunities for self-worth. Instead of simply asking for a handout, the individuals that sell Street Roots offer my something I crave. News, information, entertainment, and an honorable way to give back to those in my community with need.
For Me as Much as for Them
I feel a bit selfish, because of all the things I like about Street Roots, how it makes me feel is one of the strongest. I feel great about contributing a (very) small amount of money each week. I like that I am supporting someone that is motivated to earn a dollar instead of beg for a dollar. I like to think its win/win, but I fear that I get more out of it than they do.
Thats probably okay, because Street Roots has gotten me off the sidelines. I'm doing something now, verse nothing. I'm doing it in a way that offers dignity and respect, and I find myself less conflicted in my heart or in my mind.
Join Me in Reading the Newspaper
So in this world of digital content, short attention spans, 24 hour news, and our comfortable tech industry salaries, I ask you to join me in buying the newspaper. Next time you see someone on the street selling Street Roots, buy a copy. Do so and know that you are helping a motivated and humble human being who is someones son/daughter/father/mother/brother/sister/etc.
Buy the paper and see how you feel. I bet you'll feel good about what you are contributing to the community. I also bet you'll learn something new and interesting while reading the paper. You'll be entertained, you'll know more about your community, and you'll be glad you read the paper.