Early this morning, I walked through the rainy streets of downtown Portland. In the morning hours, the streets begin to come alive with the people who occupied them during the night. The early hours of Portland are some of its most beautiful; the daily hustle and bustle of side-walkers comes to a halt and the air is cold and damp with the morning rain.
Passing by Central City Concern, I navigated the usual maze of bodies, garbage, and tents that filled the sidewalks. Some ‘tents’ seemed like little more than tarps thrown over now-soaked piles of clothing and bedding. Winter in Portland means incessant rain. For the homeless, being wet is a regular part of their life.
For the past few weeks, I’ve walked by a woman (we’ll call her ‘Linda’) who sits by Central City Concern. Linda looks to be in her 60’s. She sits peacefully in her walker and often smiles at me while I walk by. She has the countenance of a grandmother and often chats with those around her.
Today, things were different.
As I passed by Linda, I looked at her face and saw she had been severely beaten. Two large black eyes graced her face, while her nose appeared to have been badly broken. Meanwhile, Linda was pleasantly engaged in a conversation with a fellow sidewalk neighbor. She seemed to simply roll with the punches life had thrown her.
For people like Linda, every day presents itself with the possibility of getting beaten, raped, or stolen from; right in the middle of the streets, or on the steps of the church where they are sleeping.
In the past few years, my understanding of what it means to be homeless has shifted dramatically. I used to pass judgement on those in the streets; thinking it was somehow their fault for being homeless. I’d attribute their status to drug usage, or poor choices.
As time passed, it became clear that there are many contributing factors to homelessness, including mental health, lack of community resources, and simply changes in the times.
Often, I see people come into the homeless shelter who conduct themselves as normally as you or I; including being void of mental health problems or drug addictions. More and more ‘regular people’ are now living on the streets because the times, job markets, and technologies are changing in drastic ways that average people have difficulty adapting with.
I often wonder, what would our world look like if places of worship didn’t shutter themselves in every Sunday, or holiday season to celebrate the ‘reason for the season’…how different would the world be?
If ‘god’ looked at your credit card bill, would it be obvious where your priorities lie?
I love the holiday season. I really do. Few things bring me joy like getting together with the people I love and celebrating the things we have to be thankful for. Yet, today was a startling reminder that the holiday season isn’t always kind to others.
While you and I are wrapping our gifts and patting each other on the back for another successful year of keeping up with the Joneses, Linda’s holiday gift was a beating on the street.
Perhaps this is a year to say “enough is enough” to the materialistic frenzy advertisers have turned the holidays into…choosing instead to give to others with your time, resources, and love.
…what a world that would be for Linda.