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As winter sets in, making homelessness a human issue


The winter will be long for the many Oregonians living without shelter.

Cities such as Portland, Bend and Medford face a shortage of affordable housing that has left some people on the streets.

Bryn Harding is communications manager for Sisters of the Road, a nonprofit cafe in Portland that helps folks experiencing poverty and homelessness.

He says the way we talk about people often is indicative of the way we feel.

And he says for that reason it’s important not to think of them as “the homeless” or “the poor” and instead make sure to describe them as people first.

“It’s easy for people to sort of objectify or dehumanize people who are poor or people who are experiencing a lack of shelter, and so making sure that the person comes before the descriptor is what matters to us,” he stresses.

Harding also points to a 2006 study that showed folks tended to categorize in their minds people experiencing homelessness more as objects than human beings, literally objectifying them.

He says this can hinder the discussion about solutions to the housing issue.

Sisters of the Road currently is holding its annual Together at the Table matching gift fundraiser to help feed families in need.

Harding says people experiencing homelessness face a lot of misconceptions, such as the idea that they are a greater risk to the public than they actually are.

“People complain about public safety as if folks who are outside were somehow dangerous whereas in fact people living on the streets are much more likely to be victims of crimes than perpetrators,” he points out.

This holiday season, Harding has a few suggestions for treating people with more kindness.

He says even if you have nothing to give to someone who is panhandling, a friendly “Hello,” or “Hope you have a nice day,” can make a difference in someone’s life.

“Treating people like people, I think, is something that a lot of times we just don’t do when we’re met with someone who’s living on the street or who is asking for our help,” he states. “But I think the more that we start to like have human interactions with people who we maybe think of as different goes a long way in changing how we think.”

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