STREET LIVES: Homeless youth prepare for summer
Bass, a trans man (he/him), moved from Ohio to Portland five years ago.
"I heard there was a lot more trans care and a lot better health care in general and for mental health services," he said on June 21, the longest day. But his legal aid to get him on disability and into a residential program "fell through" and he became homeless.
Bass is his street name, like the fish. He listed his mental issues: PTSD, ADHD, borderline personality and bipolar disorder. He credits the Oregon Health Plan with covering his therapy and "top surgery" (breast removal). Bass lives with his two partners in a red ice-fishing tent, which is insulated and more waterproof than the average nylon tent, and more comfortable because inhabitants can stand up to get dressed. They have a second tent for storage and as an alternative place to sit.
"A person at Outside In got housing and gifted their tent to us," he said, momentarily distracted as two youths came by with forms. People come by all the time, some threatening, so trying to help. He does not like it when people look into the tent, but it's common. It was the first hot day of 2022, with temperatures in the high 70s by lunchtime, and they opened the windows for the first time, working on the air flow.
Living on the street in Portland isn't safe or stable. "There isn't an area in the street without Rapid Response running you off," said Bass, 23.
Bass did not want to be photographed in case he is "targeted" but he did hold up his cat, Sylvia Vincent, for a window shot. The cat is named after trans rights activist Sylvia Rivera and painter Vincent van Gogh.
The Eskimo brand tent is good, it just needs the seams resealing every few months, he said.
Bass went camping in Ohio and Illinois lots when he was a kid.
"Every summer, two weeks, during tornado season, because our family rolled that way. There was a tornado almost every year we went camping." They were never hit though, he said. "It was Tornado Alley, we went down into the box," he said, referring to the campground storm shelter.
Last fall, Bass was part of large camp in front of Outside In, the homeless youth service center at Southwest 13th Avenue and Main Street. In the spring the police and Rapid Response Bio Clean swept them away.
"I'd only been there a few months when they kicked us off the block, but that was because a friend had passed away," he said. "The block was a sober block that we were trying to keep sober, and then we had tweakers (methamphetamine users). And people were like, 'No, I'm not doing it.'"
They went to Taylor Street, then Main, then Clay. Some landed outside Lincoln High School for a few weeks but were swept again. Bass and his "throuple" (three people in a relationship) looked at a site near Couch Park, which has a Portland Loo with running water, but the uneven terrain was too difficult for his bad back. They landed at Northwest 16th Avenue and Johnson Street, almost in the shelter of the I-405 overpass.
"They swept tweakers further this way from downtown and told them to go under the (405) bridge. And we're trying to keep them off our space and get it cleaned up," Bass said.
He gestured at a new crop of tents two blocks to the north, saying they were troublesome meth users. A previous inhabitant of their space was hoarding stolen goods and doing drugs, so they drove him away, and are still trying to get his multiple bags of trash removed.
Bass's camp is almost drug free. "I use cannabis for anxiety, I smoke cigarettes and I don't hardly drink," Bass said. He is working with his case manager to get into a residential program and to get temporary disability for his mental issues. Long-term, Bass wants a job where he can make a difference but doesn't have to compromise his love of art. He works in colored pencil and watercolors because they are portable. He goes by @bass.boyd on Instagram.
"I have a friend in resources who is helping me to turn them into stickers," he explained, showing off his drawings on his phone screen. Bass had not heard of New Avenues INK, a social enterprise specializing in producing screen printed and promotional items which teaches homeless youth screen printing. It is two blocks way at 14th and Lovejoy.
Leave no trace
Almost on cue, Barbara Weber rode up on a tricycle, handing out Costco gummies and black bags. She is homeless, living in Hazelnut Grove, a camp in North Portland, but cofounded Ground Score, which works with the nonprofit Trash for Peace. It offers tent-side trash service. She and her partner Mo Love, who was in an electric wheelchair, visit camps, talking to people and identifying trash piles which can be collected by Central City Concern.
"I've been homeless since 2017, and I didn't get there because of drugs and alcohol, I got there because of disability," Weber said.
"Same here," chipped in Mo, "2009."
Weber didn't want to be quoted, but she estimated that as few as 10 percent of homeless people go into shelter or housing after they have been swept.
They just camp somewhere else.
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