It was the doors. I first saw them when I went to Chinatown. Drawn toward the entrance, an entrance that begged for questions. ?With the adjoining fence made of hand-painted doors connected in a line.? I bought the traveller some food, and with that, I walked across the street towards the ornately carved red entryway and the rainbow of colors that formed the picturesque walkway I strolled on.
When I arrived to the front of the doors, I was awestruck by the sayings of the Dalai Lama, lyrics from influential song-makers, poets and writers, the faces of community activists, Bible scriptures, and the many deep and abiding colors that will forever stain my memories of that place.
The sunlight was screaming in a quiet way through the spaces between the leaves onto my subject matter, making little dapples and winking bright eyes at me as my camera shutter snapped to capture them. It was then I understood these ideas live in infinity, the words that are even now still stirring my soul.
There in the entrance, a man stood. He was older, white, kind-looking, and very suddenly asked me if I wanted a tour. Ten minutes and countless pictures later, I was walking around the side of the fence of colored doors to see a continuation of the barrier leading to a sign that read “Right to Dream Too”- thus explaining the R2D2 mystery written on many of the doors.
My guide led me through a roped-off gate to a stall under some shade where a desk sat with its manager. This is where he was explained that I desired a tour of the apparent facilities.
I was pointed to a man standing at the front of the community. He was thin in a ropy, muscular sort of way. And tan, wearing a baseball hat and glasses. We introduced ourselves and I discovered his name to be Roy, a participant in the operations at Right 2 Survive, a Portland-based advocacy organization focused on improving conditions for homeless people, for a year and a half since formerly being laid off his warehouse job as a certified forklift driver.
Roy later explained to me that he and his wife had gone to live in a similar organization in Washington before the police shut it down, forcing people to scatter, and providing an opportunity for the couple to find this Portland community. He led me through a check-in station at the front where I signed in, and then to the common area, a space where the members of the community could congregate to talk and make decisions.
From the start, I could see that this place was very organized, a sentiment confirmed when I asked Roy about their housing numbers. He identified that Right 2 Survive is able to house and support 56 people on any given night and that the community has 20 members who are dedicated to helping others better their lives and stop living on the streets.
After being led to a series of tents at an elbow turn in the community, Roy informs me that there is a couple’s tent, a men’s tent, and a women’s area for lodging, as well as a washing system and storage for used sleeping bags. He explained to me that the local Women’s Carpenter Union had come earlier and volunteered time to make the women’s tent. He led me through the kitchen/food pantry area, a place where hot meals are cooked for the often overlooked and weary travelers, and through their donation center, a place where clothing and other items donated to Right 2 Survive are stored. Incredibly, Roy later told me that the program regularly continues the cycle and donates much of their remaining to stores.
Adjacent to a few personal tents, all equipped with electricity through the community’s fundraising efforts for safety, there was a tool shed, at which Roy explained that one of their “Dreamers” was a certified carpenter who makes a great deal of the structures along with Roy himself. Behind that tool shed stood a wooden structure with a shower curtain. It was revealed, to my surprise, that the community had a working shower with hot and cold water.
At about this time, Roy showed me his own tent. It was in that small tent he called home that he told a story about trying to survive the often-frigid winters of the Northwest. His stories told of experiences about the inside of his tent having ice in it and about his near-death experience in facing the cold. He said that was one of the many obvious reasons for him moving his wife into a safe shelter and job as soon as they could, with himself hopefully to follow.
Roy’s son was born just a few months ago. His name is Landon.
The community maintains a high standard of sustainability, with all food scraps composted for the several planters made from the bottom three feet of the door fence scattered about the grounds as a way of taking in fresh fruits and vegetables. The community was forced to cut the fence down to size due to city planning legislation, but it turned out to be providential as they work excellently for planting. I was generously offered a tomato, which I took. It was delicious.
In Right 2 Survive and their justice movement, Right 2 Dream Too, I found a true representation of a peaceful existence, a heaven on earth, a very real location where words like “community” and “sustainability” actually worked together with a sort of interfaith love for all. My guide told me stories – more than could be fitted into this small space – about non-violent conflict resolution when a community member was attacked, and about the founder, Ibrahim Mubarak, who started this operation from the ground up after his own experiences with poverty.
I was able to speak with Mubarak and asked him about his perspective on the solution to homelessness, to which he stated, “We (the homeless) all want the same thing the businessmen, politicians, residents want: people off of the street.” Mubarak telling me that “faith-based communities need to practice what they preach,” further clarified that “a lot of people who live on the street aren’t there because of drugs, but because of the economic struggles in this country.”
Indeed, it was as though Mubarak put Right 2 Survive on display when he stated that human beings need to “start taking care of one another like family,” a sentiment clearly understood within myself when I meditated on my new friends and their life that they built a place of acceptance, love, and peace.
Written by Josh Ramseur