I fear it may be time for a new battery or a new camera. It only held its charge for two days. We’ll see if it works better when I don’t accidentally turn it on all the time by stuffing it in an enormous overfull backpack.
In other news, the Channel 8 video is now on MSNBC, too! I’ve gotten one email from a person who saw that, and a couple teachers commenting on it. Very nice! And just in time for my thesis presentation, too, which —
—by the way, folks. I present all this to a board of senior faculty at 9:30 am Friday. Then a reporter from CCN, the official Chinese news network, is coming to do a 90-second short on it. I am freaking RIGHT the fuck out.
I still need to get a bunch of stuff printed and painted, finish the instruction book, and do my laundry, because I’ve run out of clean underwear.
The Multnomah County Federal Funding Housing Needs Consolidated Action Plan meeting was interesting. I brought along the journalist who’d asked to interview me that day, and the homeless man who is helping me build his Boot. We were the only audience members, and not all of the officials who were supposed to be there were there. Everyone was soft-spoken and polite, and offered us seats and cookies. There were people representing the Gresham, Multnomah, and Portland administrative offices. There were two or three people from Central City Concern, and one each from a disability advocacy group, JOIN, and another homelessness charity that I don’t remember. Transition Project was not represented. They had organized handouts of what their goals were. They look pretty good: affordable housing and rent protection/eviction aid are top of the list, and there’s a lot of talk in there about making sure housing is available and suitable for the most vulnerable populations. The committee soberly discussed a couple changes of wording for greater clarity and consistency, and one woman gave a mini-presentation on the results of a City Concern charity for short-term detox facilities with longer-term housing and employment aid for people who successfully went through the program. Unfortunately, it made me realize that one of the fastest ways for a sober person to get off the street might be to get extremely drunk and go there for help. I didn’t get a very good idea of who was in charge of what, or how labor and funding were divided, or what most of their projects actually were.
I’m getting a better idea of where the Boots could fit into all this, though. It’s certain that people need better information on what aid is out there. A fair number also need safe, individual shelter with no hoops to jump through. Many more need housing that doesn’t eat up their wages, and swift temporary aid for things like medical emergencies, divorce, childcare, being laid off, and transportation breakdowns. I can provide information and shelter, but someone else really ought to figure out some kind of emergency small-loan service - one that isn’t predatory check-cashing or payday loans or all the rest of the nasty stuff people do to make money off of people with less than they have.
After I was removed from my mom's care as a kid mom spent a lot of time homeless, either at the nearby campsite illegally or on the dunes. I remember being really worried for her when she didn't have a place to stay. I just want to thank you, not only because it's nice that the homeless have a safe warm place to stay but also because their families don't have to worry about their safety.
Can I just… hug you? That’s really rough, I hope you’re both in better places now. It sounds like you are.
None of us are alone. We all have families, and we worry about them. Thank you, anon.
Breaking news: giving people control over their lives has better results than taking care of it for them. This is part of my project goal, though perhaps not one I’ve stated explicitly. I refuse to police the people in my wagons. My requests are ‘Don’t ruin it for everybody else’ and ‘Pass it on when you’re done with it.’ If someone in a Boot is a problem, someone can call the police on them - they’re pretty distinctive, it’s not like one will be mistaken for another or as hard to describe as a car. If a Boot is abandoned, people can call me, and I’ll pick it up, repair it, switch the locks, and pass it along.
I can point people at services. I will never make going to those services part of the ‘deal’ for keeping the Boot. It is given without strings. It is THEIRS.
This also cuts out a LOT of overhead, bureaucracy, and effort. I don’t have to keep track of these people and hound them for payment, haul them into meetings against their will, or do anything but teach them how to use the tools they need when they show up to help. Everyone saves!
So, like any news article, the oregonlive article on the Bootstrap project has gotten comments that range from helpful and cautionary to helpful and enthused, and some mean-spirited rants. One of my good friends, a man I deeply respect, a Quaker who actually has kept several friends from homelessness, had this to say to the people whose prejudices were falling out of their mouths:
It’s amazing how many people believe that alcoholism and drug use are the primary causes of homelessness, rather than something that a few highly visible homeless people use. The truth is, there’s a lot more variety out there than people realize. There are drug users and there are good, generous, competent people out there who hit a rough patch, or grew up in poverty and never had the kind of family help most middle-class Americans take for granted. There are people who had to quit their job, break away from their old life completely, move to a new city, and seek help in order to get clean. And they DID get clean. There are lots of people who tried everything they could think of to avoid homelessness, and couldn’t make it. There are carpenters, steel-workers, housewives, teachers, waitresses - people who thought of themselves as middle-class until they were laid off or had a medical emergency. There’s also help for them. One of the things I was noticing in the comments was the genuine ignorance of what help is already out there. If those people were suddenly homeless, they’d have no idea who to turn to for help, and neither do most of the people who end up homeless. I can be a research hub for these people. I’m happy to be a research hub for these people. The visibility of the Bootstrap Homes means I’m well-positioned to be something of a community/homeless interface, and the sweat equity construction time gives me a chance to talk to people, figure out what they’re looking for, and tell them where to find it, without insulting their intelligence.
I don’t want to be a bottleneck, though. I’m only one person, and very much an introvert. Therefore, my plan is to post designs and construction manuals for anyone to use, get hardware stores to carry kits, talk to news reporters to spread the word, and post all the links I can find to helpful projects. Like Transition Projects, here in Portland. They’re awesome. Or EDAR, who make little tent-carts and provide space to park them.
For anyone who doesn’t live in Portland, or doesn’t have a TV and a time machine - here’s the story that Channel 8 did on the Bootstrap Homes project. Thank you, Katherine Cook and Channel 8 news! That was amazing.
I just wanted to say that what you're doing kinda makes me choke up a bit when I think about it. You are an awesome human being. Congrats on your awesomeness and keep being awesome.
*WIBBLE* I um. I just like building things? And this was an idea that came along at the right time. The people I really respect are the ones who work with families to KEEP their homes. Thank you very, very much for telling me. You’re a sweetheart, too.
Hello, My name is Sammy. I’ve worked for Streetroots for over a year and a half…Anyway, Amy White ( B-line route driver / member and coordinator ) approached me with a Great idea in support of the local Homeless issue. The company is trying to set-up a Route where some of the homeless would work as beehive attendants and since this is seasonal work; they are also looking into other animal husbandry projects and/ or Soil Conservancy projects… this to me is absolutely a win-win scenario and something I could definitely be 100% in support of.
You seem to have a receptive government in Portland. What if you park one of these in Seattle or on the ironically-named Wall Street in Los Angeles, CA? Can we get the mayors and city councils and police chiefs to help?
I hope so! I haven’t looked into other city ordinances much, yet. I do know that EDAR (Everyone Deserves A Roof) is active in LA - they’re badass, check them out. They make tent-carts, and set up dormitory-style places for them to stay on private or government-donated land. Lots more ambitious than I am, but very much along the same principles. I’m probably going to adopt a lot from them.
Hey: I think this is an awesome idea. I spent three years homeless, and really only felt safe after spending money I didn't have to buy a van to live in. Now, at this point in my life, I only have one question for you: how do these move? Do you have to pull them? I ask as someone with a lot of disabilities who could never pull one of these if I really needed them. And I can't see cops being cool with a row of these sitting in one space forever. Just a thought. Awesome concept though!
They are not as disability-friendly as I’d like. They would take a pretty hefty wheelchair to pull them, and if you’re just not particularly strong and fit, it’d be a chore. I’m small, but muscular: I can pull one, and even take it down stairs, with help. But I think that’s what you’d need: a friend to help move them, or a policeman who realized that helping you move it was going to work a lot better than just telling you to move it along.
As trailers, they can legally park on the roadside, in a normal parking spot, for up to 24 hours in a seven-day period. To fit the strict bounds of the law, you’d have to move it to a different street every 24 hours. However, trailer laws are not strictly enforced, at least for people who aren’t living in them. I see a lot of car trailers without plates or lights, sitting in the same parking spot for months.
If you’re comfortable sharing - what was your experience of homelessness like? How did you get to that point, and how did you get out of it?
All the news coverage is happening all at once. I think (…hope? I shouldn’t, but I’m an INTROVERT) that it’ll be over with in a week or so, though - you can’t keep covering the same thing forever. Wow did people react, though! They bring up a lot of good points. I really want to babble forever about this, now, and try to come up with something that works even better. Next on the list!
Maybe I could invite some people to my thesis presentation. And to Open Engagement. Those would be events worthy of note, right?
Oh yeah, Boot progress pictures! Coming up in a second.
It’s about time for a mission statement, right? The mission of this project is pretty simple: to make living on the street more tolerable for EVERYBODY involved, and make people’s stay on the street shorter and less harrowing.
Boots provide shelter, and a dry, secure place to store one’s belongings. As trailers, it’s legal to park them on the street, and they (just barely) don’t violate the camping/sit-lie ordinances in Portland, so they’re legal space to exist. They have a stove, and a sink: you can heat up a dinner, or wash your hair. Someone can keep their clothes and food dry, stay warm at night, and park their belongings somewhere while they go out to a job, knowing that their stuff won’t be thrown away or stolen while they’re gone.
Building a Boot requires only basic building skills and simple tools. All the materials are easily found locally, except for the wheels, which I have to buy online. They’re incredibly cheap - only $300-$400.
Building a Boot is an opportunity for interaction! Since they’re so easy to build, it’s also easy to teach people the skills they need to do so. It’s also easy to talk about options for health care, work, and more permanent housing. The Boots can serve as long-term shelters, but they’re really meant to provide a step up to better things.
Decorating a Boot is an opportunity for community participation. These aren’t alien! You have input! You get to pick a design that’s fun to look at, and help make it a reality if you want. And if you really don’t want to see one, you can politely ask the occupant to move it to another street. It’s much easier to move one of these than to pack up and move a shopping cart, a tarp, a pile of cardboard, and three boxes of belongings.
So that’s the idea. These are Boots, because without boots it’s hard to find bootstraps to pull yourself up with.
Mostly I have been working on my thesis paper, but I’ve also made some changes to the design of the next Boot, and drawn up the instructions for that. The next occupant requested a metal frame and a box below for storage. I can do that. I also want to completely insulate the interior - no light wells in the next Boot - since the first occupant has mentioned that his feet get rather cold in the mornings.
The big news, though, is that the Oregonian actually responded to my suggestion, and today I talked to Molly Hottle, who covers the Pearl District. There will be a story about the Boots in the Oregonian coming out Saturday! She’s promised me a copy to send to my mother.
This is the first time I ever made the news on purpose.