“How many are there by choice? Do they migrate south for the winter? (Not being a jerk. I had a class on homelessness in college and we interviewed this dude who wanted to b. And went to la for the winter with his rich parents.)”
My friend Taylor asked me this via Facebook last week. I have my own thoughts on if people are homeless by choice or not, but I thought it might be interesting to see what my other friends who work under the Bridge thought. Here is what they had to say on the issue:
Justin, who runs all things Night Strike for Bridgetown Inc: It’s complicated. There are some young people who choose to be homeless for a short while just for the experience, college-aged kids from privileged families etc. I would say that most people that are homeless (in my opinion) that say living outside is their choice is because they are either:
A. Running away from some kind of trauma. Some cases could be abuse.
Or B. Living a life pursuing substance abuse away from family or any other accountability.
Honestly I don’t like to look at our guests in any generalized way because thinking that way puts me in a position to give more or less value to their requests of me, that’s just me though.
Toni, who is on the Beyond the Bridge team: Another reason of choice, to piggy back off Justin, is if they have post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and indoors and confined spaces are uncomfortable for them.
Ukiah, alson the the Beyond the Bridge team: From my discussions with folks, the reasons that they have are as innumerable as the reasons as any large group could have for individually choosing the life paths they have chosen. There is also an entire philosophical discussion to be had about the meaning of choice, what it is, how our conscious awareness plays a role in decision making and what proportion of our decisions are instinctual and based on survival conditioning versus actual rational choice models, et cetera. To more succinctly answer your questions I would offer A- it depends and B- it depends. I would say find a group of kids that look new and interview them. They might be traveling through as one of many transient groups which falls under a subcategory such as the Rainbow Family, etc.
Lesley, wife of the Founder of Bridgetown, Inc: Portland is known for its services which I think does draw a number of folks to our streets, with the idea that, initially, this would be a good place to start. In my experience people who come for that reason are already teetering on the edge of destitution and do not realize that even with all the services, accessing them is still a trick.
Kareen, on leadership at Night Strike: I think also that a lot of people who do or do not chose to be on the streets, do chose to be in Portland.
A. Lots of bridges and covered area, coupled by a police force that leaves them be more than most.
B. We are where the train lines and major highways cross, if they travel that way.
C. Like Lesley said, lots of services for the homeless.
Jenna: For me, most of the guests I interact with under the Bridge, don’t choose to be homeless. Or maybe their addictions are keeping them from taking the next step in getting off the streets and into treatment. That is a scary decision. Or choosing be homeless instead of living with someone who is abusive. Also, a scary decision. Others are on waiting lists to get into housing or trying to figure out their next move or job situation. While we do see people traveling through for the sake of the experience of being homeless and experience the “freedom” that comes with it. I would say this is a small percentage of the population we serve. I have a friend that actually lives this way, you can check out his blog here: Nate Damm.