Those two people who died on the streets: They could have, should have been in shelters.
I know there's a lot of complicated reasons for people refusing to go to a shelter even in dire conditions, and even when they are in desperate need. That's not something I know much about and will leave to others to explain.
But those in need should never have the ultimate responsibility to act when they are under duress. “Just get your ass to a shelter, man.” No. That's how the extreme conservatives, the heartless Ryan/Trumps would have it: You either take care of yourself or too bad.
Empathy and compassion demand that progressives act proactively. Opening a shelter is great; acting proactively to get everyone possible into those shelters, in a respectful and humane way, is essential. Not "open the doors & wait". Hell, no business would do that; they advertise their asses off.
I know people were doing all they could to reach those in need, but the need is bigger than the resources right now. How much better if there'd been enough people to comb the parking garages, to walk the streets, to search all night if necessary? I didn't do that, so I’m not affixing blame – except on myself.
Because as a good Portland progressive with the best of intentions, I’m not doing my part. That’s on me and no one else. Except –
No one asked me to be part of that effort. I don’t if I would have said yes, but, after this past week, if asked to do an all-night patrol looking for those in need, I’d say Yes for sure.
But is anyone asking me? Is anyone setting up procedures to do so? I honestly do not know. And again, putting the onus on me to do self-recruitment – why? It’s like going fishing, and then leaving the rod and reel on the shore and waiting for the fish to swim up and jump into your lap.
Progressive and local humanitarian groups need to get aggressive about outreach, both to volunteers and to those they seek to serve. This rarely happens. People get asked nicely, politely. “Please consider…” and such. How about, “We need you to do get out here and help, or send a donation, or stop calling yourself a supporter”. I wouldn’t call myself much of an ally to those on the streets; I ignore them. They’re somebody else’s problem.
Except they’re not. They are my problem, and I’m pretty pathetic if I don’t respond.
Yes, I do bear responsibility for how I respond to those in need. I need to be doing something; that’s on me as someone who calls himself a progressive (not to mention it’s basic human decency).
But organizations and organizers – and those in government – cannot expect people to look out the window, see the snow, and then say, “Hey I guess I should head downtown and see how I can help”. I know these groups and people are busting their asses; again, I’m not blaming anyone.
Both sides of the equation, organizations and citizens, have to take greater responsibility. But on the service-provision side: there are times when aggressive outreach is needed.
Is anyone going to get in touch with me? What can I do for you tonight?
(Note: As an active member of the Multnomah County Democrats, I will be advocating for us to develop volunteer lists for all kinds of needs. The Dems are my main activism focus, so, in taking my own advice above, I will work with my fellow Dems to put together plans and programs to engage Dems in these efforts, whether it’s regular service – the House District 47 Dems who provide a monthly meal at Human Solutions – or emegency needs. I want walk the walk.)