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Dispatch 2: Homeless in Portland — terrible


My second day back in America:

Just spent a long afternoon tooling around Vancouver, Washington, and Portland, Oregon.

No smoke from fires. Rains came just before I landed. Weather in the 60s and wonderful. Could see Mt. Hood just an hour ago.

Vancouver peaceful. People pleasant. Little if any overt signs of unrest. Many American flags on homes and businesses. Little mention of BLM and/or Antifa anywhere. (Not that I saw all of Vancouver but a friend and I spent hours yesterday and today looking around.)

Vancouver looks as per my memories long ago. Beautiful town, nice people. Feels like nice place to live.

But…as we moved over the river into Oregon, down to Portland:

We happened to see the Navy hospital ship USNS Mercy tied up in the river. Home base is Los Angeles. Internet report mentions USNS Mercy is here for maintenance not mission.

Highway and municipal homeless situation is Pathetic. People literally living in tents beside the highway.

I never see this in Thailand, or just about any other country, other than after disaster.

This is authentic third-world nested inside the wealthiest country ever on earth.

As an American this is saddening. And embarrassing. This is not my first experience with this. Have seen many in Florida, San Francisco, Los Angeles — huge in Hawaii, and other places.

We are Americans.

We cannot allow this to continue.

Many are transparently mentally ill. We have people living under bridges and on sidewalks mumbling to themselves. Clearly insane in some cases. Again, this is not my first experience with American homeless. I have talked with many in places like Hawaii. Some do not seem insane and actually choose that way. Others lost jobs, have substance issues, or some other situation.

I do not have a solution but will look for good books on the subject, read, and then find people who study our situation. Homeless epidemic. Totally unacceptable. Inhumane.


Portland — many windows boarded. Vancouver is American flags — Portland is BLM signs. Homeless. So many. Living in neighborhoods. Under bridges. In parks. Sidewalks. Where are they using toilets?

Checked out the ICE building where police were attacked last night with a couple injuries. Dirty area. Not nice. No activity during the daylight time we were there.

Down by the Federal Courthouse, where fighting happened for more than 100 days, I walked around the courthouse and other areas. Felt unsafe. Starbucks was open. There was no sign on the door saying working hours. I walked in to ask and a woman said they close at 3PM. Strange for a Starbucks. I asked if this was because of the violence. She politely said no but that today is Sunday. I asked about weekdays and she answered they close at 5PM on weekdays. Pretty early for a Starbucks. In Chiang Mai, Thailand they will close more like 10PM. I asked if this is due to violence. She smiled and said no, but that nobody comes to that area of town that late. 5PM.

Homeless everywhere. Many looking distraught or even dangerous.

One apparent ‘protestor,’ who appears to be homeless and insane, began threatening to attack me for taking photos. He approached me while I was making photos of primitive graffiti. He held out this slip of paper and demanded I photograph it. Each time I tried to get his face he moved the paper in front of my camera and threatened me not to photograph his face.

Another began making video.

I made many photos of graffiti around Portland.

This graffiti is primitive. Childlike compared to what I have seen in ‘protests’ in Thailand, Hong Kong, and before the Iraq war in San Francisco and other places. This is the most primitive protest graffiti I ever have seen.

My friend, who lives nearby, said much of the graffiti predates the protests and is more likely gang related or just normal low-class vandalism. Other is obvious protest graffiti and at about 6th-grader-level messaging.

Mumbling in graffiti. Looks like bums with rattle cans and little energy or skill are at work.

When I study conflict areas I go straight for graffiti. Graffiti can quickly distill essential elements happening at street level. In Hong Kong and Thailand, just five minutes with graffiti and you know what this is about, at least in broad terms. Likewise in Iraq. Not so much graffiti in Afghanistan. They just shoot or smile.

The conflict-graffiti I photographed today was inarticulate, jumbled, and amounted to ‘support BLM’ and some vague idea of justice.

There is a tiny camp of apparently homeless people by the Federal Courthouse. They use a forklift pallet as a sort of ski rack for skateboards. I walked over — there were maybe 15 skate boards with no wheels. A homeless looking man walked over, grabbed a wheelless skateboard, and walked away. Am not sure what that was about.

This must be a very dangerous downtown at night.

One can only imagine that property prices have tanked. That said, many restaurants were open. Sidewalk dining. People drinking beers on sidewalk tables. Even while tons of homeless people loiter about. Very sad state. As if some futuristic movie where everything went wrong, and now is the future.

The homeless situation is distressing and unacceptable in such a wealthy and capable nation. We must fix.

My apologies no time to edit this. All information is accurate. Much more talking and research to do. Bye for now.

Michael Yon

Michael Yon is America's most experienced combat correspondent. He has traveled or worked in 82 countries, including various wars and conflicts.

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