Thursday, November 20, 2008

Organize Against Transphobia

Silve​rton,​​​ Oregon recently elect​ed the first​ ever openl​y trans​gende​r Mayor​,​​​ Stu Rasmu​ssen!​​​ Unsurprisingly the Westb​oro Bapti​st Churc​h, founded by extre​me homop​hobic​ preac​her Fred Phelp​s of www.godha​tesfa​gs.​​​com infamy, is comin​g to Orego​n this week to prote​st the election. Queer​s and allie​s throughout Orego​n are preparing to organize in support of Stu Rasmussen in an effort to counter the hate directed at the GLBTQ community.​​ Portl​and is obser​ving Trans​gende​r Remem​branc​e Day this week so it seems an especially critical time to rally​ in suppo​rt of the first​ openl​y elect​ed trans​gende​red offic​ial. Westb​oro Bapti​st Churc​h has announced plans to prote​st​ throu​ghout Portl​and this week and they plan to visit Silve​rton on Monda​y,​​​ Nov. 24th.​​​ In response, a meeti​ng has been announced to brainstorm ways to suppo​rt the queer​ commu​nity and raise​ awareness of the hate directed at our citizens. If you are inter​ested​ in being​ invol​ved pleas​e consider atten​ding a plann​ing meeti​ng on Frida​y,​​​ Nov. 21st at 7pm at Outsi​de In. If you have ideas​ or quest​ions or want to support but can't attend the meeting feel free to email​ the organizers at: dmm19​76@​​​gmail​.​​​com or climb​erfag​@​​​gmail​.​​​com.

​Frida​y​​​ November 21
Outsi​de In
​​1132 SW 13th Ave.
Portl​and,​​​ OR 97205​
(betwe​en Jeffe​rson and Main on 13th.)


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Cat Food Bank December 7th

Cat Food Bank
Sunday December 7

The Cat Adoption Team's Cat Food Bank will be open on Sunday December 7 to provide cat/kitten food to homeless cat owners and cat owners with financial need. Some kitty litter may be available as supplies last. Remember, this is NOT A PET CLINIC. They will only have cat food. Just come to the address below between noon and 2:30pm on Sunday December 7th! CAT’s Cat Food Bank has provided 3,039.15 pounds of kitten and cat food to local cat owners to feed 316 cats/kittens since its inception in June (approximately 53 cats/kittens each month). CAT is also seeking donations of unopened, unexpired cat or kitten food as well as clumping cat litter to keep the Cat Food Bank shelves full.

14175 SW Galbreath Drive ~ Sherwood OR 97140 ~ (503) 925-8903

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Long Nights: A Glimpse into Portland Street Life

Check out this great video put together by
Portland Youth Builders!

Long Nights: A Glimpse into Portland Street Life is a student-produced documentary featuring conversations with members of Portland's homeless community and local service providers in order to better understand the issues of youth homelessness. Students focus on de-bunking homeless myths and stereotypes and provide an introduction to the controversial Sit/Lie Ordinance and the Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness. Participants include Dennis Lundberg of Janus Youth Programs, Gloria Willis of Cascade AIDS Project, Natalie Schraner of the Portland Women's Crisis Line, and Portland City Commissioner Randy Leonard. Check out the other videos by PYB YOUTHMEDIA HERE!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Zane Gross Memorial this Thursday

Please join us for a candlelight memorial in remeberence of Zane Gross this Thursday November 13th at 6pm in Pioneer Square. The memorial will be facilitated by Zane's mother Amber and she encourages anyone who knew him to attend.

Memorial for Zane Gross
Thursday November 13
Pioneer Square

Friday, November 07, 2008

Zane Gross

It is with deep sadness that we announce the death of Zane David James Gross. Zane was found dead this morning with immediate circumstances suggesting a possible heroin overdose. Results from a toxicology study will take approximately 6 weeks to confirm the actual cause of death. Zane was originally from Southern Oregon and came to Portland almost 2 years ago. He was screened for services and has engaged with various Homeless Youth Continuum services since his arrival. Recently Zane successfully completed drug treatment and was hoping to make significant changes in his life. His death is extremely painful for all of us who had the pleasure of experiencing his gregarious and gentle nature and is somehow even more stinging as it arrives on the heels of the recent Vulnerability Index survey. Zane's death is another cruel reminder of just how fragile the lives of young people living on the streets really are. Memorial services will be announced soon. Rest in peace, Zane.
Zane Gross
March 25, 1990-November 7, 2008

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Vulnerability Index

Janus Youth Programs recently collaborated with Portland’s Bureau of Housing and Community Development, New York City's Common Ground Institute, local service providers, and nearly 70 volunteers to conduct a Vulnerability Index survey in our community. The Vulnerability Index is a tool for identifying and prioritizing a community's most medically fragile homeless population. It is a practical application of research into the causes of death of homeless individuals initially conducted by Boston’s Healthcare for the Homeless organization, led by Dr. Jim O’Connell. The Boston research identified specific health conditions that cause homeless individuals to be most at risk for dying on the street. The Vulnerability Index is administered in the form of a survey, which captures a homeless individual’s health and institutional history. The survey identifies vulnerability through a ranking system which takes into account risk factors and the duration of homelessness. This ranking allows those with the most severe health risks to be identified and prioritized for housing and other support. By surveying people who are living on our streets here in Portland, we now have clear health and housing data on the individuals living on the streets and in some of our community’s shelters. This data will hopefully allow Portland to take immediate action on behalf of the most vulnerable people who are living on our streets, as well as identifying and implementing system improvements. 13 teams strategically canvassed Portland between the hours of 6am and 8am over the course of 3 mornings beginning on Tuesday October 21. The initial findings were decidedly disturbing. 646 people were surveyed and 47% of those fit the definition of "medically vulnerable". In comparison with other communities that conducted the Vulnerability Index survey, Portland stands out in several areas:

• Portland’s overall “medically vulnerable” population was 5% higher than other cities that conducted the same survey (notably New York City, Los Angeles County's Skid Row, Santa Monica, New Orleans and Washington D.C.).

• Portland surveyed more young adults sleeping on the streets than other cities (15 people surveyed were under the age of 19 and 89 people surveyed were under the age of 30). 23 people under the age of 25 fit the survey's definition of "medically vulnerable" (specifically related to co-existing HIV, injection drug use and or daily alcohol consumption), a much higher number of young adults that fit the risk criteria than the larger cities that conducted the survey.

• Portland had a 12% higher rate of tri-morbidity than other cities that conducted the same survey. Tri-morbidity is defined as a co-occurring psychiatric, substance abuse, and chronic medical condition.

• Shockingly, Portland had a 10% higher rate of violent attacks on homeless than other cities that conducted the same survey (keep in mind again that those other cities include New York City, Los Angeles County's Skid Row, Santa Monica, New Orleans and Washington D.C.)

• 29% of the homeless people surveyed said they had foster care involvement at some point during their lives, 3 times higher than the national average (the average for the other cities that conducted the Vulnerability Index was about 10%).

• Despite our relatively mild winters Portland has a significantly higher rate of exposure-related health risks such as frostbite, hypothermia, and immersion foot(trench foot). Exposure-related health risks are considered indicators of self-neglect and Portland's rates are alarmingly close to New York City.

• Portland has a much higher percentage of people whose only income is food stamps and a higher rate of folks without healthcare (63% of the people surveyed had no insurance).

• Those surveyed reported a total of 730 emergency room visits within the past 3 months at an estimated cost of $492 per visit for an estimated cost of $1.43 million per year in emergency medical care.

Sick City

Janus Youth Street Outreach Supervisor Dennis Lundberg spoke to Street Roots journalist Amanda Waldroupe this past week regarding Portland's recent Vulnerability Index survey. Here's what he had to say about the experience:

Street Roots: You were initially skeptical about the survey. Why?

Dennis Lundberg: Yeah, I was skeptical going into the survey. One of my initial problems with the survey was that outreach workers in our community were not consulted until after the City of Portland had signed a contract with Common Ground from New York. The result was that many of us felt railroaded by the request to participate in a survey that we knew little about and which seemed to fly in the face of basic outreach etiquette. A few of us insisted on a conference call with the Common Ground organizers to address our concerns about methodology and intent before we made the commitment. I was skeptical about waking people at 4am, as they did in other cities conducting the survey, and we successfully pushed the wake-up time to 6am. I was also very uncomfortable with the idea of photographing people. In general, I was skeptical that the survey might turn into a demoralizing media circus. There can be something of a voyeuristic element to doing this sort of thing and I certainly wasn't willing to undermine my credibility as an outreach worker by taking strangers into the "homes" of people sleeping on the streets.

By Thursday morning, what had changed for you?

By Thursday I was exhausted! Many of us had to continue our regular work days despite the survey so by Thursday I was really feeling worn out. I appreciated Liora Berry's insightful observation at City Hall Thursday morning that we were all feeling the effects of sleep deprivation after just a few days so imagine how folks must feel after weeks, months, and years of homelessness. I think some people had their eyes opened out there and I applaud all the volunteers and workers who participated. As for myself, I actually had fun with the survey! It just felt like another opportunity to engage and, despite the gravity of the questions, I shared some good laughs with the people I met. I can only speak to my experience but it felt comfortable and it felt compassionate. I was really struck by people's willingness to open up and share very personal information with strangers waking them up before dawn. I was also surprised by the ease with which many people allowed their photo to be taken. It would've been just as easy to refuse. One of the questions asked for an emergency contact and most people seemed genuinely touched that we would be concerned about their well-being. That's not something I ask often and it actually benefited the interactions. Most importantly I learned some things about people's health and time on the streets that should serve to further illuminate the work that needs to be done in our community. Once I got out there I realized this could be another opportunity for people to stand and be counted.

As an outreach worker, do you typically ask the sorts of questions the survey asked? Why or why not?

I never delve into people's medical history the way the Vulnerability Index did, but I think context is everything. I don't really mince words on outreach and I'll ask some pretty uncomfortable questions in the service of knowledge-sharing and understanding. For instance, when young people ask me for condoms on outreach I typically quiz them on sexually transmitted infections and I may even give them a quick harm reductionist lesson on the risks of being sexually active. I may ask them if they're involved in sex work. I often ask total strangers if they have a safe place to stay for the night and I don't mind telling people that their spider bites look like abscess infections. Those aren't easy conversations but sometimes we can do a disservice if we avoid the difficult questions.

Did you feel that the questions were an invasion of privacy? If you did, what was it like for you, as someone whose job requires being respectful and considerate to the people you work with, to ask them?

I think walking into someone's camp uninvited at 6am and waking them up is generally an invasion of privacy. As an outreach worker I think it is wise to understand this dynamic beforehand and conduct one's self accordingly. I was very conscious of how invasive the questions might be and I weighed the survey carefully before agreeing to participate. I took a leap of faith with Common Ground and the BHCD [Bureau of Housing and Community Development] that we would hopefully glean some data that might make it all worthwhile. Respect is the basic foundation of Janus Youth Street Outreach and we convey a lot with mindful body posture, voice inflection, eye contact, and facial expression. If people don't want us around, we leave. It's as simple as that. In the final analysis, if the survey serves to create resources for housing, as we've been told it has in other cities, then it might just prove to be worth the discomfort.

Did you give the survey to folks you had previously engaged with? What was that like for you? How did your relationship with the individuals change, if at all?

Both. I asked many of the young people I work with weekly to sit and do the survey with me but I also spoke to several older folks I've never met before. My team was comprised of Janus Outreach Specialists, Neal Sand and DeAnna Negrete, and we purposefully set out to some camps "off the grid" of downtown in an effort to find vulnerable people who might have been otherwise overlooked. We met some people in St. Johns that rarely leave their wooded camp who were incredibly high risk. I'm talking about IV drug users with Hep C and cancer! As I mentioned earlier, context is everything and we did our best to re-frame the survey as simply another tool for engaging with people. With the folks I've known for a while it was a great opportunity to delve deeper into questions of drug/alcohol use and mental health. I think I've been around long enough that most people trust that I wouldn't ask this stuff unless I thought it could do some good.

What did you learn from doing the survey? Were there any surprises for you?

It's funny because when we had our conference call with Common Ground I kept insisting that Portland's homeless population is quite unique and should be approached with regional sensitivity. They responded by essentially telling us that everywhere they've conducted the survey people think their city is unique but the findings are often very similar. I opened my mind to the possibility that I would learn a lot about our streets at this early hour and hoped to be proven wrong about Portland's arguably most vulnerable citizens. When the survey was over and the initial findings were shared at the Portland Building I think it was probably Common Ground who were most surprised and unfortunately it was rather grim news. No other city surveyed had as many cases of DHS/foster care involvement. No other city surveyed had as many people under 30 fall under the definition of medically vulnerable. Despite Portland's laid-back reputation, our rates for violent attacks on the homeless were higher than New York and Los Angeles! Frankly, that even surprised me.

What do you think the results of the survey convey? What should the City and housing bureau do in response to the results? What do you think of what seems to be the reaction they will move forward with--rapidly housing the most vulnerable and giving them priority in housing?

The findings support what many of us have known for a long time. Mental health is a staggering and complicated issue and we do not have sufficient resources here in Portland to meet the need. If we try to house people without addressing the root causes of their marginalization, such as mental health and substance abuse issues, we are setting them up to fail. Closely related to mental health is medical well-being and, with painfully few exceptions, most of the people I spoke with have no health insurance. Almost everyone said they seek medical attention at emergency rooms. This points to a major system failure and I'd go so far as to say that lack of affordable health care is the most immediate threat to our national security. Hepatitis C seems to be nearly epidemic on the streets of Portland so it's time to stop kidding ourselves and start rallying behind harm reduction and needle exchange programs. We really need to invest in our young people at a very early age. The huge rate of foster care involvement among the homeless indicates that we need to work together as a community to support healthy families from the start or we are simply creating the next generation of homeless citizens. Incidentally, the war overseas is daily creating our next generation of homeless citizens and the longer the war continues the more we should brace ourselves for the fallout here on the streets.

For more information about Portland's Vulnerability Index check out the latest issue of Street Roots.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008