Monday, May 21, 2012

Happy 20th Birthday JOIN!!

By Colleen Sinsky

Last Friday JOIN celebrated our 20th Birthday.  We threw an open-invite party at Westminster Presbyterian Church and got to spend the evening laughing, chatting, reflecting on the past twenty years and drinking delicious kombucha gifted by Townshends and Italian soda.  Cheerity Floral Design donated some beautiful flower arrangements. A huge spread of food was prepared by our graduates of the Cusina cooking class, and we honored several people who have been instrumental in JOIN’s success.  The Inspirators received the Community Engagement Award, longtime volunteer Judy Nawrocki received the Hope and Friendship Award, and Sharlene Rivers, the social worker serving Portland’s homeless community out of St Francis for decades, received the Kathleen Blake Award.

JOIN has been so fortunate to have been surrounded by such dynamic and dedicated people.  Our organization never could have had such a successful twenty years without the endless support of volunteers and community partners, a fantastic board, and “JOIN Lifers” on staff.  There was a point in the timeline presentation about JOIN’s history that I got teary-eyed, realizing that I’m capable of caring so much about an organization.  I’m inspired every day by the people we serve, and by my coworkers who have worked relentlessly for social justice on the streets of Portland.  I’m excited to see where JOIN goes in the future, and know that we’re coming from a strong foundation that will carry us through the next twenty years and beyond.  Happy Birthday JOIN!

Some photos from the archives of JOIN...

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

"Domicile Unknown"

By Colleen Sinsky

Last week a 2011 Multnomah County report called “Domicile Unknown” was published, bringing to light for the first time the number of deaths in the county among people experiencing homelessness.  I recommend reading the actual report, which includes methods, detailed data, and, importantly- recommendations for avoiding the number of deaths in Portland’s unhoused community that City Commissioner Nick Fish called “shameful.”  Forty-seven men and women died in 2011 who were most likely homeless.  This represents just a small portion of people who passed away without housing as the report does not capture those who were receiving any kind of medical care or were in a hospital.

Of the 47, only 11 died of natural causes.  The remainder were the victims of preventable accidents, substance overdose, homicide and suicide.  The average age was just 45.3, well below the average life expectancy of Oregonians of 81.3.  

Like JOIN, Street Roots is entrenched alongside our houseless friends, and the SR community successfully lobbied for the report that would capture the statistics of deaths more accurately to better inform future policy and honor those who died “domicile unknown.”  We are fortunate to know these folks as mothers, brothers, dog-lovers, musicians, gardeners... individuals who have been pushed or have wandered to the margins of society but should never lose their dignity as a human.

What disturbs me most is that the causes of death indicate not just a moment, but a lifetime of struggle.  Nearly half were the result of intoxication and another four were suicides.  Dying on the streets of an affluent society is the last degradation in a series of events that have left individuals alone, desperate and hopeless.  The deaths of these individuals goes unnoticed, but even more disturbing is that their lives often go unnoticed by mainstream society as well.  No report could capture the alienation and depression felt by those struggling on the margins.  

What we as service providers experience every day indicates the growing need for permanent supportive and affordable housing, access to drug and alcohol treatment and an environment that promotes the well-being of each member of the community.  No one should die alone on the streets, and it is everyone’s responsibility to ensure that the statistics from this report become a thing of the past.