'Hopelessness of homelessness' beat back with 500 kits
As winter winds bear down on Portland's homeless, hi-tech workers are handing out an old-school solution: kits packed with emergency supplies.
Social service nonprofit Impact NW mustered about 80 volunteers to distribute some 500 "ImpactKits" to neighbors without a home in Old Town/Chinatown on Monday, Nov. 12.
"I think it comes down to empathy. The more each person in the community can show empathy, it's just better for everybody," said Chase Johnson, a talent acquisition manager for SheerID, which opened its Portland office in February.
Other techie outfits represented at the event included AWS Elemental, SurveyMonkey, Cloudability, New Relic and Cozy, among others. The kits were filled with hand warmers, snacks, toothpaste and toothbrushes, tampons, adhesive bandages, socks, hand and body lotion and a resource guide published by Street Roots.
Community members gathered at the Prosper Portland office, 222 N.W. 5th Ave., at 9 a.m. before tromping out onto the streets. Volunteers were advised to not wake those still sleeping in doorways, but to leave a kit or two with them or in spots where many people camp.
Not everyone in attendance viewed homelessness from a comfortable distance.
"I've been pretty close to where they've been," said bank teller Kyra Urban. "There can always be more done."
Impact NW gave out about 300 kits on a previous occasion, and the success motivated the organization to scale up and try it again. Associate Director Andy Nelson says the program is designed to "stem the hopelessness of homelessness."
"We're not the only city on the West Coast with challenges with folks living outside — but we're Portland. We want to solve it like no other city does," he said. "Our hope is that this will motivate folks to take further action."
Nelson said Impact was inspired by a campaign in Los Angeles created by The Giving Spirit. The event was held on Monday, the day public schools and some offices observe Veterans Day, allowing a fistful of kids and their parents to volunteer as well.
U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici was ripping open plastic packages of Bombas socks with wild abandon, telling the assembly that "there's no reason for anyone to be homeless."
Mayor Ted Wheeler gave a speech exhorting the crowd before leaving to attend a parade on Sandy Boulevard. He noted that local shelters served 8,500 people last year, and 5,000 living on the streets were placed into housing. Another 6,000 were given assistance that kept them in their current residence.
"I hear frequently that we aren't doing anything," Wheeler said. "Well, we are."