Opinion Column

‘Home’ is a powerful word

By Stefania Seccia

Homeless tent city in Portland called Right 2 Dream Too.
STEFANIA SECCA PHOTO

Homeless tent city in Portland called Right 2 Dream Too. STEFANIA SECCA PHOTO

The journalism path is a precarious one. This is something I knew when I started trotting along it.

 

I’m writing this piece sitting in a “can’t really complain about it,” motel room in a small town called Tigard, right outside Portland, Oregon. I’m here to research homeless encampments. In the last four days, I have seen and spoken to people living and running homeless tent cities that are authorized — and in some cases even funded — by the cities they are in.

The people I’ve spoken to don’t fit the stigmatizing vision that so many without a permanent home are shoved into.

One woman, from Portland’s famous Dignity Village, was escaping an abusive marriage. She went off-grid so he couldn’t find her, and eventually wound up in the city-sanctioned village packed with tiny homes because it was the place that would take her in. She has a criminal record because she’s squatted in homes, and that meant being locked up in jail for 14 days.

I’ve met one man who has lived in tent cities for seven years with his son. He has a hard time getting stable work because he doesn’t have ID, and when he applies for it he often needs one to get work.

Another man I spoke to said he lived in a home his entire life and was able to support himself. That is until he had a health problem that saw him lose everything this past summer because he couldn’t keep up with the skyrocketing Seattle rents. So he wound up at a tent city protest, sleeping on the ground with nothing but a blanket until he got into a proper tent.

But I didn’t have to drive south of the border to hear these stories. I hear them almost every day with our vendors at Megaphone.

I’ve heard them throughout my journalism career since 2009. I’ve seen it my entire life. And most likely, so have you. While there are so many different paths that lead to homelessness, they all face the same portrayal.

As I’m typing this column, CNN is blaring on my motel room TV. It’s ongoing coverage of the Charlotte, North Carolina protests. Just like in Ferguson before.

That’s the news cycle for you — some things never change.

How often do we hear about the homelessness crisis? How often do we hear solutions pitched and quickly shut down because people don’t want it in their backyard?

Since leaving my reporter position at 24 hours last December, and taking on my role as managing editor at Megaphone, I’ve had the opportunity to hear and tell different stories. I’ve tried to portray the diversity of the crisis and the myriad of different people stuck in poverty.

Our vendors are either homeless, formerly homeless, or low-income. Many have become staples in the communities where they sell. They’ve made connections with people perhaps they might not have met before, and formed friendships despite their economic differences.

And that gives me hope that one day I won’t read the exact same headlines I feel like I’ve been reading — or writing — repeatedly since I first picked up a newspaper.

Stefania Seccia is a journalist and the managing editor of Megaphone Magazine. Follow her on Twitter @Stefania_Seccia.