Notes From a Newbie Homeless Portlander

Editor’s note:
Darrick Evenson is newly homeless. For the past five weeks, Evenson, 51, originally from Santa Monica, Calif., has been living in his 1996 Mitsubishi Galant. Prior to becoming homeless, he worked as a security patrol officer and a driving instructor.

Evenson is different from many who live on this city's streets—he's a published author (The Gainsayers: A Converted Anti-Mormon Responds to Critics of the LDS Church, 1998, Horizon Publishing). He's also battled mental illness—he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder when he was 31.

In the wake of Labor Day, it seems appropriate to portray Portland through the eyes of a man who wants only one thing—a job. If you've got work for him, his contact information is below.

I'm a newbie homeless guy. I'm sleeping in my car until some police officer has it towed away. I'm living on $200 of food stamps. I can't buy hot food with it, because, I guess, the powers that be think I may buy a couple of $1 slices of pizza with it. Instead, I have to buy a $4 small, cold sandwich, which eats up most of my daily allowance. I can't buy a large hot dog for $2, which would give me far more protein than a small, cold sandwich, because somebody in a decision-making capacity decided that the homeless should eat "healthy" on their $200-per-month allowance. Thank you, powers that be. You've got me eating so "healthy" it's gonna kill me.

I have to park near a hospital, because it's always open and always has a men's room available. Maybe they won't notice me coming in every day and night, and then leaving. If they catch on to what I'm doing, security will ask me if I'm sick. If I say no, they'll tell me to leave.

I'm sure when my clothes are dirty and ragged, and my hair is matted, and I'm unshaven, and my body odor smells like rotten eggs, I'm gonna hear a lot of "Get a job!" by passing motorists. I wish I could get one. I tried, a lot, before I was homeless. Millions upon millions of American jobs are now in China, so that we Americans can buy a nice shirt for $9 instead of $19. Sure, I can try to find a job. But how many employers are gonna want to hire me? What employer is gonna hire a guy who stinks, has ratty and dirty clothing, who is unwashed, with no address or transportation?

Forty years ago, if you were a dishwasher, you could stay in a cheap motel room, with your own bathroom, and still have money left over; enough to eat and catch a movie once a month. Now, you can't rent a cheap, seedy motel room for anything less than $265 a week!

When I first came to Portland three years ago, I thought I was coming to Oz. I thought I was coming to see an enlightened liberal mecca. Then I saw the homeless. I've never seen so many in so many parts of a city. Sure, Los Angeles has more, but they're all tucked around Skid Row. In Portland, the homeless seem to be spread about the city.

When I first knew I would become homeless, I asked about services. I was given a little yellow booklet. I must admit, it all sounded good. Showers. Meals. Shelters. Clothing. But then I discovered the reality, and reality bites. To take a shower, one must stand in line between certain hours of certain mornings, once a week only, and I'm told get ready to have your ID and your things stolen, and don't even think about bringing a wallet.

In places like Santa Monica or Santa Cruz, Calif., homeless services are all within easy walking distance. But in Portland, you may have to travel 12 miles to your doctor's appointment, and then back again to sleep. Shame on you, Portland. You should have been a shining example to all other cities on how to take care of your homeless. 

This is my first and last commentary on homelessness in Portland. I have to sell my old beat-up laptop for $40, if I can. With that, I can buy some toothpaste and a few rolls of toilet paper, and a little gas for my car, and some hot food. I'll have to junk my car soon, for about $300. I'll be sleeping under the stars, but at least I'll have a little cash. With that, I won't have to beg for about a month.

That's being homeless in Portland. 

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