Under the Bridges
UPDATED on January 22, 2013
Right 2 Survive leads our Under the Bridge walks on the first and third Tuesdays of the month from 6:30pm until ? Everyone is invited. Please dress according to the weather. Things like socks, scarves, hats or any other gear you can carry with you to share are welcome.
Meet at the Right 2 Dream Too rest area on 4th and NW Burnside at 6pm. Come one, come all, we are going to have a ball, talking with people and hearing the things that they go through while living on the streets, under the bridges and in the bushes. Police do sweeps of our houseless friends that sleep outside, so we will also be informing them of their rights. If you want to learn more contact Ibrahim Mubarak on FB.
Here’s an article from June 2012 that gives more background.
It’s a Portland that many of us may not see.
A city whose landmarks are those in-between spaces that people who live inside don’t always notice: the gaps between chain link fences and massive bridge supports, clearings under scrubby bushes that line the freeway. Dumpsters which are a reliable source of carpet scraps, broken but usable chairs, or food.
It’s an exercise in perception. Take boulders newly installed to cover a river bank. Some see them as a landscape improvement. People living outside mourn the loss of one more comfortable sleeping space.
The first and third Tuesday of every month, Ibrahim Mubarak leads Under the Bridges walks. They are a way for him to reach out to or reconnect with people living on the streets and a way for “housed folks” to get a sense of some of the challenges of lives spent outside.
Mubarak, who spent many years living outside in Portland, is a co-founder of Dignity Village. Now living inside, he was instrumental in setting up, last October, the Right 2 Dream Too camp — or “rest area,” as he calls it — at the corner of West Burnside and Fourth Avenue. Many Right 2 Dream Too members go on the Tuesday walks.
Their settlement is a project of Mubarak’s umbrella organization, Right 2 Survive, an advocacy group whose goals include, ”empowering the un-sheltered … and facilitating creative use of under-utilized private spaces and resources for the purpose of getting people off the streets.”
It’s unlikely that he penned this primly phrased mission statement. At last Tuesday’s walk over the Burnside Bridge and south along the Eastbank Esplanade, Mubarak, a convert to Islam, told pithy stories in the incantatory rhythms of a street preacher.
The time that he encountered a raccoon in a dumpster — “the raccoon won.” The nights he spent outside Montage restaurant, charging patrons to snap pictures of him and his pet white rabbit, which he “dressed like Santa Claus or a pumpkin,” depending on the season. “They were real houseless-friendly. I ate ground alligator one time. They cook good in there.”
A recurring theme — the injustice of criminalizing homelessness. They call it “sidewalk management” now, he says, disgust in his voice. “Not supposed to be more than four of you anywhere.” He points to an awning, “In the pouring rain, what houseless person in his right mind, is going to say, ‘You can’t come in here with us.’ ”
He knows many, many people. As he walks past the line of folks lined up outside Portland Rescue Mission, Mubarak greets most of them by name, exchanges hugs and handshakes. “How ya doing? How’s the police treating you? They been doing sweeps?”
It’s a question that he asks of all the people along the route. He maintains that during the Rose Festival the police sweep people out more diligently. A young man jammed against a concrete pillar, where the noise from the freeway is deafening, says he hasn’t seen the police. His eyes are bewildered behind his glasses, but he smiles at the group, reads their flier inviting him to this weekend’s Pitch A Tent at the Rose Parade event. Mubarak presses his hand warmly in parting.
Farther along where Main Street meets the river, there are several shopping carts, and beds, many of them covered by tarps.
A couple sit together on a concrete tree-surround. They know Mubarak well. “Yes,” says the red-haired woman, who is rolling a cigarette, “the police have been by. Loudmouth and Cornfed were here,” she says, referring to the policemen by their nicknames. “They pulled D.J and Chuck’s houses open.”
She and her male partner tell the Right 2 Dream Too member that other outside sleepers who have been displaced by the carnival “are moving over here.”
Two men a little distance away are using a bench as their kitchen. One of them carefully pours steaming fat from a frying pan into a sawed-off PBR can. His hands shake alarmingly. Mubarak introduces himself, invites the men to his event, asks how things are going and “What’s for dinner?” Bacon and French toast, says the cook. He proffers a brown bag full of crispy bacon bits.
“I don’t eat pork,” says Mubarak, smiling. The man thinks about this. He punches his forehead repeatedly as if to spur an idea. “Do you have a CD player?” he asks Mubarak.
“At home,” is the answer.
“Then I’d like to give you a CD,” he says.
He searches through bags until he finds a Bob Marley CD. “It’s new,” he tells Mubarak.
“I love you,” Mubarak tells him as the group moves on.
Edward Lloyd is standing not far away near his bed. It is covered with a tarp – the corners military sharp. “We keep our area clean,” he says, “so that they won’t bother us,” meaning the police.
“Besides,” he adds, “I’m pretty stubborn. They can’t run me off. I’m an Oregonian. I’m a human being. I should be treated like a human being.”
“Right on,” says Mubarak.