The Night Belongs to the Homeless

The homeless people’s suffering belongs to amusement of our political order under a game over the right of marginalized group being transformed into citizens for merely punishment and humiliation. The Public Space Protection Orders is a penalty over one’s condition suffering – it is a fine over the disempowered for being disempowered. This act allows power to fragment the homeless into sub-humans punishable for the state of utter misery.

— Bruno De Oliveira

Just the right juxtaposition of colors, forces, themes, subjects, words, images, things, create some of the most amazingly unjust situations in life if we are willing to scrap over the patina or push out the fog of distraction and deception. Here we are, in this Rose Festival (Portland, Oregon), and the Canadian and US Navy ships are up the Willamette River, docked next to cotton candy makers, Ferris wheel operators and carnival game hustlers. Imagine that, USS Anchorage, USS Champion and HMCS Edmonton, as well as 12 historical ships, in a city miles from the Pacific delta.

Portland, the place of that insipid and fake Portlandia, and all this KEEP Portland Weird bumper sticker mentality, and these men and women, well-fed, some overfed, walking the downtown corridor of Portland, strutting their just-pressed uniforms.

That’s where my organization – 810 of us working for 1800 housing cases, and thousands of more in free clinics and employment services – has set up shop: Downtown in Chinatown. Vagrants (what the hell is that?) and destitute and out-right mentally beyond simple crisis point also like our neck of the woods.

The juxtaposition of tall black, brown and white men and women side stepping this 25 something woman and her two daughters, two and three years old, while they are in crisis, it’s an unholy alliance of consumerism and crass disinterest in people suffering. Mother of 25-year-old screaming, her daughter’s children bawling, a giant train wreck right near our cool coffee shop.

Those sharp looking starched whites and weird caps, polished shoes, and mocha grandes and food cart delights (Portland is the food cart capital of the universe) grasped in manicured hands, while sailor after sailor side steps this scene, and most don’t even look down at a family in crisis.

So, the mother – grandmother of the children – is screaming at the daughter, 25. My client and I step out of the office, and this tough guy, all tattooed up, a few single gunshot wound scars on his back and neck, he sort of floats back into PTSD. Women yelling, kids screaming, a giant dramatic scene.

It’s about the children, and I rush in, tell the mother of the mother of the two kids to head on out, and I get back to our office and go into our clothing closet and grab shirts, jackets, a sheet, umbrella, and on the way out, I grab cookies.

This is the state of America – these wasted people on those gas hog ships, playing this patriotic bullshit two-step to hell dance. These kids and adults in the navy can’t even give a helping hand, don’t know how to, don’t want to. These military are definitely not America’s finest, since the finest are the ones who stopped, called up a couple of social workers, and some of my colleagues, working class, coming up with $85 for a night in a hotel for the mom and two kids. We call and we call. Looking for more permanent solutions. No answer or, no go:

No available spaces at the shelters. I recommend to the woman to tell them, the shelters, she is in domestic abuse crisis, and that just gets her, “ Well, for you to be placed here, there has to be an open DV case on the books . . . . .”

The grandmother has been in a shelter for two months, and the 25-year-old mother and two kids were kicked out of one four days earlier: you can’t have sick kids and call the doctor (or take them to the clinic) and stay in a women and children’s shelter). Imagine the logic in this – if you have kids, if they are sneezing or have some communicable disease, they have to be bounced out on the streets.

Sure, the mother asked for a tent, and here, in Portland, for this this fat-drinking and eating and carousing weekend 72-hour party, well, not a good idea. Not a good idea being a woman on the streets with kids or no kids.

But this is the exceptionalist country, number one, the envy of the world, perfect and so-so cool and giving (when it comes to dropping bombs, selling bombs, building bombs, marketing more bombs).

We do not have a Mitch Snyder anymore, someone in the homeless advocacy world who is also experiencing homelessness. Fighting, on the news, making policy statements!

Mr. Reagan and Congress’s housing cutbacks are directly responsible for the homeless problem, Snyder said 30 years ago.

Home is a notion that only nations of the homeless fully appreciate and only the uprooted comprehend, wrote Wallace Stegner, in, Angle of Repose.

What we have is emptiness in America – the public spaces no longer public, barricaded against the struggle that is displacement, and no place to live or stay. We are a country with no public toilets, a country with shitty public transportation, a public where people run around with wounds puss-filled and closed ER’s. This is the value we put on those children, the babes, the very backbone of our miscarriage of justice miscarried society.

I am trying to not find the more ballistic and militant ways of dealing with the millionaire miscreants and the middle-level academics, middle managers, paper-pushers, policy and law and levy and tax enforcers, all these sick and perverted militaries on the streets, and this scene of Starbucks and burritos and fake smiles, those great landlubbers sense of the world, navy men and navy women, here, to propagandize their shitty profession and their mercenary and soldier of fortune shit-storm.

Do they hear that two year old child, tender, so tender, so loving, there on the spit-spotted sidewalk? Do they understand the insanity of their own propped up paper-thin sanity? What great salvation are they up to in those multi-million-dollar ships?

They are in it for the years away from the real work that has to be done – teaching, rebuilding, healing, building, growing, making something out of our communities. Do they have the tools? Or are they just waiting for the civilian world with some high tech company, some Angry Birds Five app to be invented, or some lying dog BS combat interactive game?

This city is full, up to the gunnels, no more beds, no more empty rooms, no space for shivering children to get out of the elements, no empathy or solutions for the broken back that is our barely recognizable social services system.

The average person in America thinks there are all these services and places for the vulnerable, dispossessed, disenfranchised, broken, left out, dropped, traumatized, sick. A billion churchgoers giving up spare rooms and using the Prius to take anyone to the ER. Sure, that is the mythology of a very uncaring nation, one run by the likes of Koch, Walton, Bloomberg, and anyone in the Fortune 1000 crew, top on down.

I know how many of my female clients have been raped, on the streets, in flophouses, running around with druggies, and being a druggie too. No brainer, hands down, 100 percent socked by this sexist, violent, dead from the neck up America.

Talk about trauma, the brain chemistry, the heart and soul and cognition, all of it, hay-wired, yet we have insipid politicians and their even more insipid manufacturers of lies doing squat for the homeless and mentally ill.

That number is 100 percent. Raped. Not some hyperbole, but reality, and yet how many telethons are worked up for those women, their offspring, all the collateral damage to families, friends and communities?

Everyone is doing his or her own thing, and everyone is in on the scam, how to make a new buck, how to remake an old one. We are living in the shit-storm of neo-liberalism etched into an international neo-con lead weight. What is really important? What really counts when we are on that death bed? What will our grandchildren and other grandchildren think about this generation, this time, and the mistakes that keep getting repeated and magnified by our intransigence?

Will it be poetry that lifts us out of the pit, the sewer filled hole the elites have dug for us, a moat around the world, around our stolen lands?


new tribe laughs
at those titans
of silly, inanities
break away from
asphalt fields of dream
find other methods
for survival
the planet off kilter
its gyro, clouds
like global

daughters, sons
flowers, fields
mountains, streams
boulders, canyons
flesh of ungulates
breaths of moose
some whoosh of
nutcracker, shadow
of buzzards, petals
balsam arrow leaf
while coal-fired
trumpets spew
hate of our era
captains of industry
Nazis, holy see
floundering Talmudic Terrorists

new tribes busting out
shadows of prisons
shooting for sky
plate glass about
to melt, slag of capitalism
evidence of evil
tribes forever locked
in DNA of daughters-sons
memories banished
held into each last gasp
something bigger
better, not enshrined
in paperwork, slogging
silly consumerism
bloating our species
into death

new tribes no
longer hiding
dancing over
Capitalism’s corpses

* from, “Slavers of Old Language Banished by New Tribal Youth”

I have friends who dream about those children of the night, moms off all meds, and god knows what they seek to bring the treble down on the voices in her head, while these magnificent children wait for donuts and half-consumed lemonades to be tossed at them.

The winds are whipping up, and the rain came back, and, tomorrow is supposed to be in the high sixties with 20 percent chance of rain. The teens will be out on the rides. The sailors will be acting, as sailors do, the couples will imbibe in the hops and IPAs and hard ciders Portland has become famous for. Families will try their luck at the vegan barbecue food truck. Jugglers and mimes and Saturday Farmer’s Markets and a big market like some Turkish bizarre, and live music, bicycles galore, the windows of the million dollar lofts pushed open, the sound of jet planes landing and taking off, the old pine forest receding, the pavement and cul-de-sacs like tsunamis on the land.

The homeless piss, defecate, drop their diapers, look for scraps, and some shadowy place to shoot up and discover big open places to toke up.

The city is an open wound, and the riot is inside, seething, each individual knowing something big is just not right, askew, and that the lessons in school and the bribes on TV and all that cluttered un-culture in the mass pop media, well, empty calories, brain cell killers.

But the carnival still blinks into the night, as jugglers and scam artists vie for all the attention. Kids out of college look for excuses for vapid distractions, and the sun will set in the West, still, even with the freak show of Trump and Clinton, and the military engines fired up, and this un-Black President saying sayonara, oh well, eight years of continuing criminal enterprises.

The scabies will dig in under their skin, the bed bugs will pull to the surface blood, the lice will burrow deeper, the wet hack stays in the lower lobes, the brains are scrambled from the cooked up drugs and the cooked up solutions.

The dogs run fast and sound, the night is theirs, as the rats jump onto buoys and scramble for basements. The lights on Portland’s famous bridges make it seem, with the squint of the eye in the early morning, like Monaco or Istanbul, but quickly the eyes water and the sight ahead is yet another town on the brink of complete bifurcation. The haves have it, and the haves not see what they don’t have, and the haves keep what they have and want, and the haves not see how much of what the haves have grows exponentially with each passing trading day.

They have dreams, the ones who care, about that woman raped by the Stanford Judge and His Stanford Swimmer. People dream about those children and that granny screaming at the top of the lungs. So loud that the sailors made a beeline away from the ruckus.

Only the dogs have the night, really, and the gutters, all those kernels of kettle corn, all the half-eaten corn dogs, all the litter and streets slowly emptying at 2 am.

The two children wheeze and are restless, but stay close to the emotionally-lobotomized mother. Granny is somewhere close in a woman’s shelter. Somewhere out there, there is a doppelganger for the poor and addicted, some mirror version but without the added weight of fighting daily for sanity and life.

The night belongs to the addicts and the drunks and the cops. The night used to be that skunk hour, that time of raptors and voles and bats and moths.

The night is my caseload, my people, some I will meet in a week, in months, some never crossing my path, since death knows no struggle too profound.

Paul Haeder's been a teacher, social worker, newspaperman, environmental activist, and marginalized muckraker, union organizer. Paul's book, Reimagining Sanity: Voices Beyond the Echo Chamber (2016), looks at 10 years (now going on 17 years) of his writing at Dissident Voice. Read his musings at LA Progressive. Read (purchase) his short story collection, Wide Open Eyes: Surfacing from Vietnam now out, published by Cirque Journal. Here's his Amazon page with more published work Amazon. Read other articles by Paul, or visit Paul's website.