sustainabilityfortheworld


What Moves Us
February 4, 2011, 12:23 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Thanksgiving 2005. I went to Chinatown in Portland, Oregon, ready and willing to do whatever the Union Gospel Mission needed me to do to help serve the homeless of the city. I was assigned to hand out napkins and plates to those wanting a hot Thanksgiving meal. Not a very difficult task, and while I felt I could do more, I did my job, thinking I was helping as needed. Little did I know that it was those I would serve that would ultimately inspire me.

A man walked up to me, as I was the first person in the line everyone wanting a meal came to before receiving Thanksgiving turkey, mashed potatoes & gravy, yams, pumpkin pie, and stuffing. I greeted him with a smile and wished him a Happy Thanksgiving. At this point, the line ahead of this man was rather long, so he stood by me for a while before he moved forward to receive his hot meal, something necessary on this day where the temperatures were in the thirties.

“So, what is a guy like you doing down here with us on Thanksgiving? Don’t you have a family to be with?” Indeed, I did, and still do, have a family to spend my holidays with. They were with me this Thanksgiving, helping out in other areas as needed for this massive event.

“There are a lot of ways to show how thankful we are for what we have. My family and I chose to come downtown and give back to a community that most neglect. I want to be here.” That last little bit caught the man off-guard, and I could tell he was slightly stunned. “Why the hell would you want to be down here with us? Don’t you have a warm home and food on the table? Man, if I had those things, you can bet your ass I wouldn’t be down here!”

It’s an interesting conundrum. The homeless question the help others willingly offer them, yet if the roles were reversed, they would stay as far away from this life they’ve become so accustomed to, even if they would be helping those in need.

We got to talking, and I learned that I had much more in common with this man than I initially believed. He was from the East Coast, but had moved to Montana sometime in the early 1990’s. The past five years, he hopped trains and traveled wherever the trains would take him. He told me of how he played hockey until he graduated from high school, and we talked about our shared interest in the sport until the entire line in front of him had cleared, and those behind him became unruly.

As he became visibly frustrated with the crowd behind him, he turned to me and said something I will never forget. “Man, if all people were like you, the world would be a hell of a better place. Happy Thanksgiving.” And off he went, stomach growling in anticipation for his hot meal.

When most people think about the homeless, they generally think about dirty, drug-addicted, destitute people whom have no ability, and no hope, to get out of the horrendous situation they are in. But the most stupefying thing about this isn’t that we have such a negative connotation toward the homeless population. It’s that we don’t try to help them.

Across the country, the homeless population is on the rise. In Oregon alone, the number of homeless students rose 14 percent from last year’s numbers, with more than 18,000 homeless students in the state.

Take a minute to let that sink in.

18,000 children from elementary school to high school go to school every weekday, and when that final bell rings, they don’t have permanent housing to return to. They don’t have that security and level of comfort knowing that everything is going to be alright, that they and their family are safe and secure.

Don’t believe it? This link here will show the staggering numbers.

Since that Thanksgiving in 2005, I’ve had a longing to help the homeless in whatever manner I can. From handing out food with my mom whenever we drove around, to filming a mini-documentary to try and raise awareness of what the regular homeless person goes through on a daily basis.

But it’s now time to take this one step further. As I enter the heart of my journalism degree, taking four of the thirteen SOJC classes necessary to obtain my degree, I’ve had my passion reignited. One of my classes will be focusing on communicating sustainability, and how we as journalists will be able to make a “greener” planet, for lack of a better term.

After one class, I started thinking, “How could this be integrated in a project to help the homeless in EugeneEugene?”

Then, the gears started spinning and the ideas started rolling.

What if the City of Eugene could fund, or help fund, sustainable housing for the homeless in Eugene?

Granted, it would most likely start with one or two houses that could house 20-30 people at a time, but think about the positive aspects that could come from a project like this. We would help get people off the streets, where they run the risk of death, especially during these cold winter months. We would be able to cycle money into the local economy by hiring local companies and workers to build the houses and install the sustainable products, such as solar panels. And, my personal favorite, we could provide an opportunity for the homeless to slowly integrate back into mainstream society by teaching them essential skills and trades that would allow them to obtain permanent employment and would give them an option that simply is not available to them at this current juncture.

I’m proposing my ideas in my Gateway to Journalism class tomorrow (Friday), but I plan on discussing my ideas with my “Communicating Sustainability” professor (or Creative Director, as she likes to think of herself) this evening after class to get her input on how this idea could become a reality in Eugene.

As I make more developments, I will fill everyone in on them, but for the time being, all I have are these ideas floating around my head as to how to take this from a great thought to a great movement, not only in Eugene, but across the country.

Until next time,

David

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