Sunday, June 26, 2011

Portland, Oregon - a tale of dark and light

Murals by homeless youth in Portland, Oregon at Outside In Shelter. Copyright (c) 2011 Wendee Holtcamp

I promised I'd give my last Oregon update before long so here it is! When I first arrived in Portland for my recent trip to the coast and to my dad's cabin, I stopped by a place that held a lot of significance for me - Outside In shelter for homeless teens. These are murals painted by some of the kids in years past on a wall that is near a courtyard where they sit and hang out. I was not able to take a photo with any of the kids because they do not like their photos taken, and I was there visiting the donor relations person (I wanted to contribute a little back to a place that helped me in my youth).

So when I was in between my junior and senior year, my mom kicked me out of my house, and made me live with my dad in Oregon (the horrors). But since I'd lived there in Houston for two years, and had just formed friends and was about to start my senior year, it was devastating. Add this to the fact that my mom and stepdad moved me every 1-2 years throughout my entire LIFE, so finally I was in a place where I could graduate with people I'd known, and she decided she was going to teach me a lesson by rejecting me and telling me I was on my own, she was done. Now I love my dad to pieces, I do, but I hadn't lived with him except for summers since 1981 and I didn't have any friends there where he lived. I had a couple in Portland because that was one of the places I lived for one year in my vagabond youth.

The reason my mom kicked me out was because I was rebellious, disrespectful, and "on drugs" (so she thought). The reality is, I had been raped as a 14-year old, and went downhill from there, falling into behaviors of self-cutting and other things they may call "emo" today. Oh, and I guess I should add that I never told anyone about the rape, so I internalized it all into a big mass of self-hatred and angst, and that combined with the natural teenage rebelliousness against one's parents created a not-so-pretty family life. I should also add that (bless her heart) my mom was a "yelly mommy" and my stepdad was sometimes a "pushy, yelly stepdad" and it was not a safe, trusting, happy home anyway. I found my refuge in my friends, in partying, smoking, and other things that I am thankful to the Lord Jesus Christ that my kids are not in any way like I was as a teenager!

That summer with my dad was one in which I went deeper on the path that was not so good (and this is also why I would never, ever in a million years "kick" a child out of my house - it gives the absolute wrong message). At any rate, during one week of the summer, my friend told her mom she was staying with me at my dad's (who had no phone), and I told dad I was staying with her mom. And we lived on the streets for a week. In one sense, no I was not a "real" street kid, but I truly lived as one. We hung out with them. I slept on the streets - we took a train to an abandoned house with some other street kids and slept there, hung out in Pioneer Square, slept on park benches and God knows where, snuck into a club (Skoochies), and I took to shoplifting. It was not pretty. I remember that one of the street kids we knew had scabies (bugs that make marks on your skin). Seeing that had an impact on me.

Outside In had a "no questions asked" program where you could go and eat. You had to fill out some forms. I made up a name I think. But it made an impact on me and I've always wanted to go back there. I have overcome things that I just can't explain in words. I know in my heart that God was with me the whole time, even though I completely rejected him at that time in life. I was an affirmed atheist, but later in the summer, my dad sent me to a Christian summer camp - which also was eye-opening. I wouldn't say I "accepted" Christ at that time, though, because I'd argue with anyone about their Bible beliefs throughout college until I met Matt and started reading the Bible for myself.

Outside In has expanded and moved into a new facility and they do SO many great things! They have temporary shelter/apartment/transitional living for people ready to get jobs and get off the street. They have alternate schooling for kids that want to earn a GED. And they have a free clinic for people of low income, that I got a tour of and it includes homeopathic/naturopathic medicine which I thought was way cool. I want to pitch an article on this place. In truth, my life could have so easily gone a completely different direction. So many of these kids run away and then bond with one another and because of the security that comes from having a "family" and having total acceptance means that they would never go back home. I could have been there. And not all of them turn out happy success stories. Homelessness in kids is a terrible, terrible thing. So if you want to donate, check them out!

Walking up there is this "no violence" artwork that one of the kids made.
Blossoms falling in cracks... the theme seemed to resonate for me. These were on the block up, where I parked.
This is a door painted by one of the kids. I got a tour from Kelly Anderson, who manages the donor relations.I didn't get to meet any of the street kids but would like to if I report a story.
Another piece of artwork. Honestly I wish I had more images of the inner workings but people were everywhere and I just couldn't take any pictures. When I heard they started this new project called Virginia Woof Doggie Day Care, I had to go visit. It's at a different location. Some of the homeless youth work with dogs for a few weeks in transition to getting their own work and apartments and getting off the streets. It is the brainchild of Outside In's Executive Director Kathy Oliver, who I met in the hallway. I also met her dog!

This is a sign outside the facility. People bring their dogs for the day. They work with two kids at a time, but only one is ever there with the other staff at a time so they get personalized training. They teach them everything from working with people to working with the dogs.
I am not a big dog fan and the dogs all started barking like crazy! They separated out the big dogs from the small ones so I didn't have to get mauled - ha ha.I got a kick out of the fake hydrant! Laughing! Other than that, I organized another writer gathering, this time at The Press Club. It was great fun! I'd never been there. It's a cool place with good food. They had all kinds of magazines and literary journals on one wall. If you can believe it, it does not actually have a website. Susan Hess, Terri Hansen and me! Old friends reunited! Fuzzy because I took it with my phone.Cassandra Profita, Christy George, Lizzie Grossman, and my dad's wife Bev! Bev and Dad came out to join us. To their right is Susan again, and her husband Juergen. Great folks! Fuzzy pic but the only one I got of Orna Izakson, a writer and naturopathic physician. If you're in Portland and need a naturopath look her up!
I'm sure I'm going to have to put money in the cuss-jar for this, but it cracked me up!! Look closely at what the doomed dinos are saying... It's a wallet. I almost bought it for my friend, but decided she probably had a wallet!
One of my days in Portland I got to spend with my 7th grade BFF Kelli, an amazingly talented artist! We stayed at this B&B, The White House, which was really fancy!
A view inside.
We walked from The White House to a restaurant down the road and shot a pic at the flower market on the way.
Later, Kel playing piano at The White House. It was a really fun night of catching up and girl time!


Jennifer Willis said...

I'm glad to see you mention Outside In and their programs. A few years back, I wrote an article for The Portland Tribune about Virginia Woof:

Dogs teach new tricks

Anonymous said...

Great little story on Outside In. That org. has been a member agency of Oregon Food Bank for many years (pertinent since I have worked at OFB for nearly 15 years).

Anonymous said...

Threw all of the bumps on the road in life, you still managed to bloom into a beautiful woman with a heart of gold. Your so special to so many, especially me.