Constituent policy

Kaia Sand | Homeless people must have a say in politics

Street Roots ambassadors came alive as they discussed the topic of ranked voting.

They thought about how this method of voting could motivate people to vote, because they might feel like their vote carried more weight since, even if their top candidate didn’t advance, their next preferences would be taken into account. account.

The ambassadors – people who have experienced or are currently experiencing homelessness and also work as Street Roots vendors – came together last Thursday for a workshop led by Sol Mora, civic engagement manager for the Coalition of Communities of Color to to collect information for the charter review processan effort every ten years to revise the city charter.

Mora led these workshops to ensure that voices that are often left out are, in fact, let in.

In addition to Street Roots, she has also worked with people brought together by the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon, Hacienda CDC, Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization, Africa House Center, Pacific Islander and Asian Family Center, Slavic and Eastern European Center, Muslim Educational Trust, Native American Youth and Family Center, Next Up, Unite Oregon, Urban League of Portland and Verde. The public can register to comment at February 17 charter review meeting.

Six Street Roots ambassadors were masked and brimming with ideas as they spoke with Mora about what it would mean to have city council representation at the ward level and the importance for elected officials to know what matters to them. their constituency.

Several people pondered the types of structures they had witnessed in the towns they grew up in when considering whether Portland should transition to a city manager type government.

Having Street Roots Ambassadors involved in these discussions is part of an intentional change that we have undertaken as an organization. Too many policies that impact the lives of homeless people are written without their input, so we focus on insisting that elected officials see homeless people as their constituents. This includes collecting information through surveys to inform policy.

Most of our efforts have been channeled through the Ambassador Program, devised and run by Raven Drake, who started out as a salesperson herself. At the start of the pandemic, Raven was homeless, seeking others camping along the highway to ensure they could self-isolate if they contracted COVID-19. She had gathered medical supplies and set up a quarantine tent. Soon, however, she was helping the Multnomah County Health Department write guidelines for homeless people and organizing Street Roots vendors to provide that information and supplies to people camping in the area.

Now, once a year, vendors can apply to be one of ten ambassadors who undergo training and then engage in outreach, surveys, as well as “civic circles” with community members. that emphasize learning from each other. Ambassadors also work with local students.

The Poor People’s Campaign, launched by Martin Luther King Jr. and reinvigorated in a contemporary movement co-chaired by Reverends Dr. William J. Barber II and Dr. Liz Theoharis, highlights the importance of organizing approximately 140 million poor and low-income people. people come back to vote.

To do so would amount toWake the Sleeping Giantas they named their report showing where they organized low-income voters to get out and vote in 2020. They found statistically significant increases in voter turnout.

Raising voter awareness “around an agenda that includes living wages, health care, strong anti-poverty programs, the right to vote, and policies that fully address the injustices of systemic racism, poverty, ecological devastation and the war economy can be effective across state lines and racial lines,” the report states.

Street Roots focuses on voter education at the local level. During the 2020 election, Street Roots Ambassadors took to the trails to help homeless people register to vote.

We remind elected officials that homeless people are their voters who have the necessary feedback. We have therefore made special efforts to carry out surveys likely to collect this information. It’s not just about launching an online survey and declaring it done; there are too many obstacles to this approach.

Instead, our ambassadors walk the trails to reach people experiencing homelessness.

Ambassadors are paid to conduct these surveys, as well as lead outreach and trainings, through specific contracts and grants with 99 Girlfriends, Meyer Memorial Trust, Oregon Community Foundation, and Building Dialogues initiatives. initiatives and start-up grants from the City of Portland Office of Civic Life.

Our first effort in this regard was a survey gathering information for the Portland Street Response pilot project, “Believe Our Stories and Listen,” in 2019. During the first months of the pandemic, we asked people about their preferences in in terms of shelter and temporary accommodation, as well as ask people experiencing homelessness what they needed to inform the implementation of the Metro Housing Services measure.

We did all these surveys with Portland State University Homelessness Research and Action Collaborative and other grassroots organizations. It has been an important partnership. PSU HRAC can help us build and evaluate the surveys we implement.

A survey reported for The Oregonian by Nicole Hayden was led by Street Roots ambassadors. The survey showed that 91% of the 300 respondents surveyed had undergone a camp sweep, and of these, 95% said they were not offered any other services before their camp was scanned.

A city spokeswoman, Heather Hafer, described the results as unreliable, Hayden writes, because they were “self-reported experiences.”

This is a shocking remark that goes against our efforts.

I certainly hope that policy makers care about what homeless people report living. The city makes far too many policies that impact their lives, including organizing camp sweeps in the area and enforcing laws that disproportionately impact homeless people.

The city also operates the Portland Housing Bureau and works in conjunction with the county to operate the Joint Office of Homeless Services to administer and fund services and shelters.

All of this work impacts the lives of homeless people, so they need to have a strong voice on what it looks like.

As Shailly Gupta Barnes, director of policy for the Poor People’s Movement, writes, “They are the sleeping giant who has yet to be dragged into political action, but who hold the potential for us to realize the nation we need. still be”.


Street Roots is an award-winning weekly publication that focuses on economic, environmental and social justice issues. The newspaper is sold in Portland, Oregon, by people experiencing homelessness and/or extreme poverty as a way to earn an income with dignity. The Street Roots Journal operates independently of Street Roots advocacy and is part of the Street Roots organization. Learn more about Street Roots. Support your community newspaper by make a one-time or recurring donation today.
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