In the summer of 2017 I was locked out of my home and my finances, and spent a brief time among the homeless of Portland, Oregon, until a friend generously invited me to stay in his basement apartment until my ex-wife decided we were no longer “taking a break.”
Granted, there were other things going on during that time to which I’ve elaborated upon elsewhere, but it was a significant shock to realize that my wife and my family would recoil in an act of self-preservation, leaving me to the elements.
Good news: as a US veteran it didn’t take me long to find my brothers and sisters; an estimated 11% of all homeless are vets, and many of them die from exposure, overdose, violence, and suicide, and it’s estimated that a US veteran commits suicide every 65 minutes.
“22 veterans a day commit suicide,” goes the saying, although the number is likely far higher; the stats do not account for those who are not in the US Veteran’s Affairs database.
I am deeply appreciative for the experience, for I saw something that has rendered me transformed: the spirit of generosity (which I have come to call ‘Weft”) is of incredible density among those on the streets.
The photo: I ran with these guys for a spell; two men who had created a camouflaged encampment beneath a large spruce tree next to Columbia Blvd.
They built and repaired trailers for fellow homeless who were on bicycles, and their economic relationships with others was rich and complex, transcending the value of what we call cash.
Just months later I was hired by an Amsterdam-based company (Bitnation Pangea) and as their CTO studied the dynamics of refugee an stateless populations; these are the same as what we call “homeless camps” in the United States.
I was able to remain in close contact with these men until just before Christmas of 2017 (when I shot this final photo during our last visit), when soon afterwards the police came in and threw the entirety of their belongs into dumpsters, and arrested them.
It took me months to find one of the men; the other I’ve never seen or heard from again, and now I’ve lost touch of both since I’ve moved to Texas.
I also got to know some fellow vets that assisted with Occupy ICE in Portland (in 2018); we collaborated on communication security as well as a few services that were provided to the people in the encampment, and today some of them are the muscle behind Hazelnut Grove; an autonomous encampment in Portland. Good crew.
Generally, those who are living outdoors are treated as less-than-human, and even within my own family they have never fully come to embrace me as a whole person, even now that they know that the events of 2017 were a dishonest contrivance.
Generally, they’re glad that I moved away. My experience has besmirched their reputation, and my experience is common; homelessness becomes something akin to a scarlet letter that marks a person. People conduct themselves as if the homeless have leprosy, even if the person is no longer on the streets.
In 2017 my sons were pulled aside and told that I would never recover, and in the five years since there’s been no effort to repair the damage of these statements made to boys who were in their teens at the time.
Of course the boys and I continue to enjoy a deep relationship, but it’s taken years of repair, and they experienced first-hand the dehumanizing treatment a person they love received when I “became homeless,” even briefly.
My son said “it’s scary to realize they’ll do it to me if they’ll do it to you.” Yep.
Again, I’m glad for the experience, for the same reason I’m appreciative for the cigarette burns on my body; I am able to win the trust of others with just a few words, because they know that I understand.
I’ve been there, and I’ve experienced it. Ergo: the scars serve as an expedited vehicle for securing the trust of those who are disinclined to trust others. Ergo: the scars are a gift for those who seek to transform their experiences into a vehicle for helping others heal.
True compassion cannot be expressed unless you live an experience with another; that’s what the word LITERALLY means, which is why it carries some gravity when I say the following:
“May you someday curate an authentic compassion for the poor.”
Good times create soft men (and women); soft men (and women) create hard times.
It’s our turn, and I have the highest confidence that, in time, a sufficient number will step into service, so they might demonstrate their great quality.
Many of those people are among us, currently living in the streets, rendering service onto my fellow brothers and sisters, and I am honored to be in their presence.