One day in the spring I sat along the East-bank Esplanade watching Portland’s promenaders, and I noticed I was just a stone’s throw away from the people living in tents, under the bridge. I wondered about all this epidemic-level houselessness. I wondered where it’s heading. And I thought about the growing tensions between housed and unhoused neighbors as more and more people are being displaced. I thought about the periodic sweeps that cost the city a lot money and do nothing productive to solve the issue, but in fact harm these fragile attempts at survival.
I considered a variety of approaches that might help ease this complex problem of homelessness, and I wondered if maybe a good first step might be to provide an intersection that brings people together in a sensitized way, and that strengthens the village as a whole. We really need each other when facing complex problems.
Two years ago the city of Portland launched an effort to reverse the number of homeless in Multnomah County, since then homeless populations have actually increased nearly 10 percent (3). Across the city, housed residents are concerned over the number of emergency structures being erected. While some neighborhood associations are actively engaging in conversations with Village Coalition representatives to seek solutions for this crisis, others are not ready to begin that dialog. Most people have limited understanding of their houseless neighbors. A vehicle for speaking and listening is needed to help bridge this gap.
PROJECT & TIME LINE
I will call on Portland street artists to help design, build, and launch a mobile Storytelling-collection, Photo-taking kiosk (with recording equipment and a camera) mounted on a artfully fashioned bicycle (think of a hybrid between an ice-cream cart and a flamboyant burning man styled bicycle) that will begin touring in the summer months. The bike will travel s on weekends along Portland’s East and West Bank esplanade and under bridges, reaching out and collecting stories and images from transient people. The photos and stories will be collected and organized for an exhibited during Design Week Portland in January 2019, where viewers will be invited to respond and record their feelings about this crisis and share any inspired ideas for solutions. The Deinum Prize Final Presentation in November 2019 will share the entire project, from the project launch, to the DesignWeek exhibit with public responses to included in that showing.
My background. I received my undergraduate degree in Art 2001-2004 at the U of O, then accepted a position as Executive Director at the Emerald Art Center Gallery in Springfield Or, where I worked for nearly a decade. My experience managing art exhibitions strengthened my understanding of the transformative power that art has on both the artist and the audience.(1)
I have since returned to school for my Architecture degree and am working on my graduate thesis while enrolled in the Center for Public Interest design program, which I hope will give me the skills needed to work effectively with houseless communities.
Architecture can provide creative new solutions for shelters in the housing crisis that will allow marginalized populations to work together to be self governing and more sustainable. As social advocates work to this end, I see a division and friction between housed and unhoused populations. I see the need for reconnect people. Art and Storytelling is sharing from a deeper level that can provide a thoughtful intersection as art speaks a universal language across class, race, gender, and ability. When we share from our cores we reconnect with our humanity, and that is the baseline needed for healing a fractured social infrastructure, and for rebuilding the village.
Through my studies with the Center for Public Interest Design, I’ve been introduce to the Village Coalition, a group of housing activists lead by houseless and formerly houseless people from Portland’s Tiny House Villages. These include: Hazelnut Grove, Dignity Village, the Kenton Women’s Village, and Right 2 Dream Too. Part of their mission is to restore relationships between unhoused and housed people; and increase the resilience and adaptivity of our local neighborhoods.
My work with Village Coalition and my understanding of the power of Art and Storytelling has inspired the project Voices from Under the Bridges. This project will invite the stories and lived experiences from Portland’s transients sleeping rough in tent and under the bridges. I am offering my experience as an artist, as a art director, and as an architect to design and provide a mechanism for sharing that includes all stakeholders impacted by the housing crisis. I believe we need the fusion with each other to make whole what’s being sundered and undone, because: “Those who have endured breaking by life, are the resplendent cracks through which the light shines. It’s through the eyes of our poets and our misfits we find meaning and discover beauty—not in spite of it their oddity, but because of it.”(2)
• I will work directly with Margarette Leite, (Architecture & CPID faculty) through all as-
pects of this project including the public exhibition during Portland’s Design Week January 2019 and the Deinum Prize presentation in November 2019.
• Village Coalition members, residents and artists will oversee the project through all its
phases. VC was founded by the combined energies of The City Repair Project
• The ReBuilding Center (4), and PSU’s Center for Public Interest Design (5) to help coordinate the tiny house village-building movement here in Portland and is lead by houseless and formerly houseless people. Villages include Hazelnut Grove, Dignity Village, the Kenton Women’s Village, and Right 2 Dream Too.
• Karl Anderson, CEO of Futel, will provide high tech audio recording equipment from a
Portland Metro Grant.
• Nili Yosha from Outside the Frame (6) will provide supportive services to help document the interviews final event by filming public responses for impacts of the exhibit.
This project invites an intersection between all stakeholders in the housing crisis: Portland residents, neighborhood associations, architects, builders, artists, community organizers, housing equity advocates, local businesses, government partners and philanthropic foundations working to increase the amount of low cost transitional housing in the Portland-metropolitan area.
The goals of the final exhibition is to change public perceptions of the houseless communities, and to open a dialog through sharing. Those impacts can be measured through listening/viewing and feedback mechanisms on display with the Voices from Under the Bridges exhibit.
As houseless communities present their stories through storytelling, they find their voices and discover their strengths that have helped them survive and overcome adversities. Within this transformative discovery, healing begins, hope grows, and authorship of one’s own future is strengthened.
The audience experiencing the exhibition will have a non threatening intersection for approaching this complex issue that will hopefully result in more sensitize responses to housing inequities and inspire conversations centered on long-term sustainable solutions.