Understanding what homelessness isn’t

There are a lot of things we’re proud of as Oregonians:

The scenic beauty we are constantly surrounded by; Our generally progressive thinking on important issues; Being outside of California.

Yet, amid all the things about Oregon that make us proud, there’s one thing I find it hard to admit about my beloved state. While homelessness has declined around the nation, Oregon continues to have the highest percentage of homeless families with children.

Between 2017 and 2018, the number of homeless families decreased in 41 states across America while, in Oregon, we experienced a 2.5 percent increase — the fifth highest in the nation.

Right after California.

According to a report released last November by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), more than half of Oregon’s homeless families (60.5 percent) are without shelter, either living on the street, in cars or in tents within that scenic beauty I mentioned earlier.

As much as we want to tell ourselves that most of the homeless are drug addicts, criminals or suffering from mental disorders, the fact is more than half of the homeless living without shelter in Oregon — more than 7,000 — are either school-aged or displaced veterans.

Before we can truly address the issue of homelessness, we must be willing to understand that the majority of those who are living their lives without a home aren’t those on the street whose faces we often avoid.

The fact is, more often they are those whose faces we recognize each day but who never say a word about their homelessness.

They are mothers and fathers, sons and daughters.

They are students, cooks, part-time employees, unemployed veterans and senior citizens faced with deciding between medication, food or shelter.

By stereotyping the homeless as addicts or criminals, we insulate ourselves from the reality of homelessness, and how close we all are from a life without shelter.

Truth be told, nearly half of Americans live less than two paychecks away from the kind of financial crisis that could lead to homelessness.

That’s not the kind of stereotype we want to think about, but one we have to be willing to accept in order to affect the kind of change that will, in turn, change the lives of so many of our homeless in Oregon.

While the bigger solution to solving homelessness in Oregon will require more than donations of food and clothing, our willingness to acknowledge the homeless in our community by offering support is an important step toward achieving something else we can all be proud of as Oregonians.