In the first semester of my senior year, I formulated an independent, inquiry-based class where I found a unique way to illustrate the stories of homeless people in Portland. Throughout the semester, I found myself on the streets of Portland inside of homeless shelters and non-profit organizations talking to all sorts of interesting and unique people. I listened to them tell their stories as we had deep and important conversations and snapped photos of them afterward. I worked closely with John to share their stories using words and photos, and I ended up creating an overarching story about human connection using their stories. I interviewed eight people and plan on turning these stories into a photo book by the end of the year. I had the OES mission statement in the back of my mind the entire time: “OES prepares students for higher education and lifelong learning by inspiring intellectual, physical, social, emotional, artistic, and spiritual growth so that they may realize their power for good as citizens of local and world communities.” Intellectual, social, emotional, artistic. These four principles of growth guided me through the process of using my power for good. Using my inquiry in art time and mentor, I decided to take my love for photography, journalism, and connection to the next level. I wanted to figure out if I could connect with homeless people and make them feel heard, understood again. I realized it was about much more than that.
I am yet to reveal the name of the book, but here is a sneak peek interview to preview the publishing of my book.
“I knew I wanted to serve America all my life. I never knew this would be the way I did it.”
Jordan is a 53-year-old parking enforcement officer who used to be homeless.
“I grew up with a foster family in Portland ever since I could remember. It wasn’t abusive, but it wasn’t healthy,” Jordan explains, “I wasn’t loved, that’s for sure.” Jordan’s father worked as a construction worker, and his mother was a nurse. He never really knew how he had gotten into foster care, nor did his parents. “My family was so bitter. I was an only child, and it felt like they regretted having me. They were nice people, but I definitely struggled with depression.”
At 18, he enlisted in the Marines right out of high school. He ended up being sent to Lebanon for a few years. He came back unharmed, but the war left him with severe PTSD. “When I came back, I took a taxi to my old house. I knocked on the door and two complete strangers opened. The feeling was harrowing. I thought to myself: They ditched me?” Jordan was emotional about the situation. At this moment, I thought to myself, the one key factor in all of these stories was a lack or loss of human connection and compassion.
Jordan had nowhere to go. With the money he earned from the military, he would often find himself spending hundreds of dollars a week on drinking. He was sleeping outside and was in no position to search for a job. He continued to recall the memories of the war constantly in his head. “You see your friends dying, you’re constantly surrounded by blood, violence, innocent people dying. I could not get it out of my head.” He had heard about PTSD but wasn’t diagnosed until far later. I asked Jordan how he spent his days and he told me a lot of time was spent moving throughout the city to get food, apply for shelter for the night, or simply moving spots asking for money. He never had time to go see veteran’s services or anything, nonetheless even think about those kinds of things. “It sucked, but it felt like this was my destiny. I accepted it.”
It wasn’t until he began to interact with other homeless people that he became involved with other veterans. Once they had heard his story, they sent him to a veteran’s assistance association in Portland. He had always carried around his high school diploma, which he said helped. When the veterans’ service asked him what he wanted to do with his life and whether or not he was ready to work, he answered: “I am not done serving my country.” They first helped him cope with his long-standing PTSD and then he was ready to work. “The association told me there was a parking enforcement interview available. Man, I was so excited. It was around Christmas time. I had been homeless for years. This was a miracle from God, my first present in awhile. You know? I made sure I worked hard to get a shower and razor before the night of the interview; I found some clothes that would work. I went in, told them my story. They told me to come back a few days later. When I did, they said I got the job, and I started training soon after. They paid for my first month’s rent, too.”
Jordan has been a parking enforcement officer ever since. He’s been able to get back on his feet easily. He now lives alone and does what he can to help the homeless.” Thanks for talking with me man, he says as we shake hands, “this is important stuff to talk about.”
Not all homeless are sad, not all are unhappy with their situation. Not all are stuck in the cycle forever. It’s simply important to listen.