Finally home: But for how long?

Finally home: But for how long?

In the past two weeks, two amazing things have happened: I moved into affordable housing that I have been waiting for years to achieve, and I started my new position as the Communications and Development Coordinator at the Community Alliance of Tenants here in Oregon. It seems like a weird twist of fate that I would move on to do both in the span of 7 days, but justice has piercing vision.

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My husband’s dating profile while we were still married.

 

 

By this point, many of you have heard my story and I’ve practiced telling it hundreds of times. I feel compelled to tell it because every time I do I feel freer. I used to feel condemned to silence, to my own discomfort, but the more I shared my story, the more solidarity and strength I have found and offered.

Years ago I was the wife of a wealthy British expat. I met him in Berlin when I was 22. I was married young, the same year I met him. He moved us to America, back to Portland where I went to college. Once he had secured American residency, I was driven out of my home and threatened with retaliation if I came back. I felt like a dog that someone didn’t want anymore. There was no fight, or lead up. I was just told to pack a bag and abandoned by a man who claimed he loved me. I had gone from rags to riches to rags again, having started my time in the United States as a Salvadoran refugee.

The rental crisis in Portland was in full swing when I found myself houseless in late summer 2014. Airbnb run amock, private developers eyed corners were beggars could scarcely sleep at night without being harassed by the City. I was scared. My husband asked me if I thought I was “too good” for the life I had left behind.

news-12west-aia-awardNo. I was afraid. Just like my parents were, just like I was when I was a child. How horrible it was to not know where to put my head. Other women my age were cuddling their first-borns, just getting married themselves. My wedding dress was stuffed in my husband’s closet while other women asked him “Did a woman used to live here? Do you have a wife?”

There is a corner of my life I still do not understand – the futility of understanding a man’s cruelty. When rents skyrocket the way they do here in Portland, and in the Bay Area, women like me, like us, fall into desperation.

We don’t frequently think of poverty as a women’s issue, per se, but the face of poverty is female. Mothers with children, Black women, trans women, disabled women, women escaping domestic violence: these are the women who cannot afford to live alone. These are women who are coerced through capitalism to live and stay in the arms of men who make more money than them. Through no fault of their own, these women are given the choice to be homeless or go back. Rent control and the rental crisis are women’s issues.

When I was alone and picking through my last things in the luggage I lived with, I remember begging my husband to let me go home in voicemails. He deleted them, threw my letters away, but I cried out to him to please help me go home. When the pain grew too heavy, I tried to check myself into a mental health clinic for suicidal ideation. That is when I learned my husband had cut my health insurance. I was still married, still his wife, but I had no other thoughts than “he is trying to kill me.”

I often kick myself for the sense of loss I have for that man. I can still close my eyes and see him like it was yesterday. There is not a single day I don’t think about him: my husband. The only one I ever had. If there was ever a case for fate or a higher power, it was that I clawed myself out of the hole he left me in and that I am housed today.

The concierge he treated so poorly saw his actions. The neighbors he dismissed reported back to me. The baristas, the women he accosted in bars and online, many of them searched out his name and only learned who he was because of my decision to write it all down.

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Not knowing where I was going to sleep next was one of the most distressing ordeals of my life.

 

Years later, one of the women recognized me. She was the property manager of a new building with affordable housing. She told me I would finally have a home. I cried because I had not known that feeling for so long. I do not know where I would be now without it.

The work I am doing now represents the work that made me whole. I am letting you know that Oregon needs rent control and an end right now to no-cause evictions and extreme rent hikes. If I could have found affordable housing after my husband abandoned me, I would have been able to re-establish my life more quickly. One of the biggest indicators for whether women overcoming domestic violence can thrive is if they can find a home. You’re even more likely to find a good job if you have a stable place to live. It’s a catch 22, but it’s the reality for thousands of women in Oregon every year.

Even if you own a home, I hope you will help me spread the word about HB2004, also known as Stable Homes for Oregon Families. Please make sure other women like me stay housed. Write or call your legislator and tell them why this matters. But go beyond that. Figure out where people are living when they lose their homes near you. Where do they go? Where do the women who suffer go? Who is profiting off their sorrow and pain?

17861920_1665967807045068_1438011596778990259_nI challenge you to follow the trail of money. See who is making money when a family loses their home. Look up how much money it is. Look up everything you need to know and do something about it. Challenge the people who kick women out to offer affordable housing and support rent control. We cannot continue to treat our poorest people like this. We cannot thrive as a society when we are hemorrhaging our young people who cannot afford to buy homes like this. Our elderly cannot simply be thrown into the streets because of profit margins. Limitless growth for the property management industry is not possible.

Our lawmakers work for us – remember that. Hold them accountable for what they do to the meekest of your peers.

A place to call home

A place to call home

October has been a very busy month for me – between my birthday, helping plan the Wordstock literary festival relaunch and interviewing authors, I’ve been behind in keeping this place updated.

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Zev Nicholson, organizing director at the Urban League of Portland, calls for housing solutions for renters as high prices and no-cause evictions are taking a toll on the community. The protest came during a rally outside City Hall before an Oct. 7 council hearing on the housing crisis.

Of the many things I’ve been writing about, Portland’s ongoing rental crisis is at the forefront of my work this fall. City Council recently passed some modest provisions for renters – including an extension to 90-days for no-cause evictions are rent hikes over 5%. I know it’s not enough. I am no stranger to the cruelty of the renters market, and am in a unique position to have seen quite the breadth of it here. Not so long ago, I was a resident of Portland’s illustrious Indigo 12 West apartments in the heart of Uptown. One of the first increasingly-common glass blue highrises I’d seen, my neighbors belonged to celebrity artists and financiers alike – Blazers, actresses, that guy from Portlandia, doctors, pilots, and many, like my husband, software developers and other tech new money. The software developer’s young wife, I was not sure how to navigate the situation, and soon forgot the sorrow of long-ago displacement, that old life of working two jobs for a small one-bedroom in outer southeast.

I watched the rent prices climb – and one day, the man I was married to urged me to find my own place, because I would no longer be welcome with him at the Indigo or among the blue glassy dream of downtown Portland.

I had no idea how bad it would be out there again.

Portland’s summer of evictions crashed around me, with black single women I knew leaving the city faster than any other time I’d seen in my history here. I watched one of my best friends grow heavy with pregnancy alone – asking if anyone had a bed or couch where she could lay her head down. Only a year ago I could have given her my couch in the Indigo – now I was helpless next to her, unsure where I too would go each month or how I would make rent.

Portland rent has driven out so many artists that this week, after a reading an article over at the Willamette Week by Carye Bye on the creative class fleeing the city, I decided to start my own patreon account to hopefully support myself staying here.

While I am still here though, I’m working on two wonderful interviews I had with Reneé Watson and Sandra Cisneros, both of whom are women and authors of color who are reading and headlining this year’s Wordstock literary festival.

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Elsa Mengis of Portland (left) fights to keep her adult son from being deported out of the country because of his immigration status, drawing support from a family friend, Sonya Damtew, in front of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement building in Portland.

Another wonderful story I recently got to work on was the story of Thomas Amanuel, an Eritrean refugee who is stuck in detention limbo. His mother Elsa Mengis has worked tirelessly to bring attention to his plight and hopefully keep him here.

The Center for Intercultural Organizing has done outstanding work advocating for Amanuel and his family, and I think his story is part of the larger narrative going on here: people of color are being pushed out of Portland, whether it’s through rising rents, no cause evictions, predatory lending and bad mortgages, deportation and laws that unfairly target dark-skinned and foreign people – there is something brewing here that needs to be addressed.

I hope I can continue to write for Portland and create content that’s accessible to people of all means and backgrounds, and I hope every update I provide, every story I share, gets to your hands and informs and enlightens you.

And as if that weren’t enough, I’ll sign off with a link to this week’s Notable Portland, my literary events calendar for the local area. I’m most excited to hear North Korean refugee and human rights activist Yeonmi Park at Powell’s on Tuesday night. I hope to see some of you there, or at Basic Rights Oregon’s halloween gala, Ignite! this Friday, where I’ll be volunteering as a social media intern and catching the city’s best costumes and quotes.

Can Gentrification Be Reversed?

Can Gentrification Be Reversed?

This week, I followed an initiative by a Portland non-profit that’s not just trying to stop displacement but actively reverse it. If the program succeeds, it could the first of its kind any where in the country to do what many people thought could not be done – give people of color places back in the neighborhoods that so recently belonged to them.

Maxine Fitzpatrick of Portland Reinvestment Community Initiatives embarks on her latest and probably most original plan to date. Photo By Olivia Olivia/The Portland Observer.
Maxine Fitzpatrick of Portland Reinvestment Community Initiatives embarks on her latest and probably most original plan to date. Photo By Olivia Olivia/The Portland Observer.

You can read more about the plan to bring 1000 homes into Portland and figure out how to access them or qualify for them by reading the rest of the article here at the Portland Observer.

Ready to say goodbye to one of the last black-owned corners of Mississippi Avenue?

Ready to say goodbye to one of the last black-owned corners of Mississippi Avenue?

Neither are we!

This week I concentrated my efforts on a story about a Black-owned Masonic loge in North Portland that’s been on the same corner since the late 1960’s. After being vandalized by white-supremacist graffiti, it was the target of a complaint that racked them up a massive bill with the City for violations they might not be able to afford to bring their building into compliance with.

Ross Danielson has formed a petition to get relief from the city over code violations and fines that threaten the future of the historically African-American St. Joseph Grand Lodge and Grand Chapter of Eastern Stars, one of the last vestiges of the black community on North Mississippi Avenue. He is joined by his friend and neighbor of the lodge, Fito Roberts. (Olivia Olivia/The Portland Observer)
Ross Danielson has formed a petition to get relief from the city over code violations and fines that threaten the future of the historically African-American St. Joseph Grand Lodge and Grand Chapter of Eastern Stars, one of the last vestiges of the black community on North Mississippi Avenue. He is joined by his friend and neighbor of the lodge, Fito Roberts. (Olivia Olivia/The Portland Observer)

I know a lot of us spend a lot of time thinking and talking about the rapid gentrification of North and Northeast Portland, and the loss we feel that our families and friends can no longer afford to live in the city. But we’re in a position where we can still perhaps help one last part of history stay in its beloved corner. They need our help, and in order to to do that, we must raise awareness of their struggle and understand what the cost of keeping them here really is. My full story and more is up now at the Portland Observer and available for free in red boxes throughout the city.

And, as an update, their online petition to save the location is available now for you to sign and share.