Takin’ it to the Streets Hallmark Homeless Christmas (Part 2)

Not far from the encampment, Bethany was excited to begin her career as a social worker for a tiny non profit organization tasked with helping the homeless of southeast Portland into affordable housing. She was excited for the $42,500-a-year job of tackling the homeless crisis and moved into the tony neighborhood of Sellwood she’d be serving. Tony neighborhoods have homeless people? Sure, they are everywhere. Just walk out your door in any small town, suburbia or big city in America and you will encounter them.

Bethany’s parents were decidedly not excited about her new job, her first real one after graduating with a MSW from the University of Washington and bumming around South America surfing and learning Spanish with some girlfriends. Bethany’s party was now over and she felt an urgency to start her career and assume a serious role in society.

She was the only child of a Portland power couple rich to the gills from timber and real estate holdings, including a couple of downtown mini-skyscrapers. Bethany’s parents wanted her to study business or law and take over the operation but she wanted nothing to do with a corporate life that ripped apart watersheds and human beings with brutal transactions. She wanted to help people and her parents didn’t know where her passion originated.

Bethany cut quite the atypical and arresting figure as a social worker.

Just how arresting? Ohhhhhhh, so beyond the Hallmark movie cliché! (Reader, let your imagination run wild!)

Bethany’s parents expected she’d come around after a few years of do-gooding and they had an ace in the hole in their game plan with her—she was engaged to a promising young doctor who specialized in lucrative gender reassignment surgery and was making a name for himself as a Rose City mover and shaker. He was a cipher of a man named Alex and Bethany didn’t really care anything about him, even his chiseled Ken-doll appearance, which other women seemed to drool over.

They were supposed to get married during the summer in some lavish affair that would cost over 300 grand. Bethany was pretty much bored by the whole prospect of the marriage but didn’t bother doing anything about it. She wanted to concentrate on her job and move people off the streets.

It was a cold Monday morning when Bethany’s began her first day on the job! Christmas was two weeks away and you could feel it in the air, but Bethany didn’t care about the holidays. She just wanted to work and work on Christmas if necessary and thus avoid hanging out with Alex and her parents.

Bethany walked to the non profit’s sleek office. Her parents had bought her a $750,000 century-old three-storey home in Sellwood so she wouldn’t have to commute. Bethany thought it was an absurd extravagance for a single person to live alone in a five-bedroom home, but she didn’t have the gumption to turn it down and tell her parents to donate the sum to the non profit. She might get around to that later.

She met briefly with her supervisor, arranged her windowless office, checked e-mail, fired off responses, and then geared up to go outside. Her goal: help one homeless person get off the streets that very day. No scheduling future appointments for the person, No data gathering. No forms to fill out. No more web sites! No passing the buck. Action. Action. Action. Do it all in one day if possible.

And it was possible for many homeless people. Many were ready for direct and immediate action. Just ask them!

A week before starting the gig, Bethany had bicycled around Sellwood and gathered intel on the dozen or so encampments and roughly 40 solo campers. She also counted at least two dozen vehicles parked individually here and there that people were clearly using as domiciles.

Another interesting thing Bethany noticed on her ride was the long line of homeless people outside a grocery store waiting to redeem cans and bottles into a single machine. Men and women were there vaping, sleeping, drinking, reading, talking. It occurred to her that waiting in that line with the homeless might be the perfect way to initially interact with them, hear some stories, gain some trust, and perhaps offer instant help.

Bethany’s first stop was the machine. She walked right up with a small bag of cans, got in line, introduced herself, said she was a new caseworker in the neighborhood and was here to help. She did all of this without a shred of nervousness inside her. In fact, she was surprised at how easy it was.

The men, women and kooky dogs in line all greeted her warmly. Bethany marveled at the various ingenious, jury-rigged, rolling contraptions used to haul the cans and bottles to the machine. The three baby strollers harnessed to a husky was just incredible! Bethany redeemed her cans, went inside the store, and bought treats for the husky and to have around for the next dog she encountered among the homeless. She already knew that was another great way to interact with them. If they cared for their dogs, which they did, they might be able to care for themselves.

It was an exhilarating first moment on the job and Bethany walked away thinking: I’ve got to come to the machine at least once a day. Better yet, we should install one outside the office!

She didn’t know it yet, but Bethany had learned more about Sellwood’s homeless population from spending 30 minutes in the machine line than her predecessor had in year on the job!

Next stop was the encampment along a creek and across the street from a park. It was easily the weirdest and most squalid encampment of it it kind in the area. It was also the encampment where Ethan parked his van nearby.

As far as Bethany could tell from her predecessor’s records, no one from the organization had ever made any contact with any resident there.