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Friday, November 22, 2013

Your New Favorite Hashtag if You Care about Homelessness and Poverty: #MyHomePDX

Posted by Denis C. Theriault on Fri, Nov 22, 2013 at 1:59 PM

Housing and social justice advocates—troubled by this summer's tense and difficult conversation around homelessness and poverty—have launched a new social media storytelling campaign meant, in part, to help reframe and recontextualize what's been a particularly polarized debate.

It's dressed in a Twitter hashtag—#MyHomePDX. And after several days of a soft rollout on Twitter and elsewhere, it's getting a full-on start next Tuesday, November 26. For now, the idea is to get regular people talking on social media about our shared values on homelessness and compassion, with the hopes of building a coalition, some day, around raising new money for helping ease the plight of people living on the streets.

The work is being led by Street Roots, but will be shared by several organizations and individuals recruited specifically for their social media acumen. Beyond SR, participating groups include Neighborhood Partnerships and Northwest Pilot Project, which provides housing for seniors.

Storytelling is a huge part of the campaign—reminding people how many of their neighbors are already doing work to help people and that the reality of homelessness looks nothing like some of the sensational headlines and myths some people cling to. But it's also about encouraging more people who aren't volunteering or donating what they can or spending time with the homeless to get personally involved.

The Mercury has obtained a copy of the campaign's work plan (pdf), which covers most of those ideas, in four "pillars," and also breaks down its long- and short-term aspirations.

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This campaign feels like a continuation of two successful and similar efforts, over the past two years, to protect and enhance safety net funding in the city of Portland's budget. But it's also influenced by, if not quite a direct response to, new initiatives this year to bring back "sit-lie" laws, sweep city sidewalks amid Mayor Charlie Hales' heavy-handed talk of "lawlessness," and hold "civility" forums that struck many observers as achieving precisely the opposite.

"We want people to capture why they give to people on the streets or to local organizations, to recognize that there's a lot of doom and gloom around this issue, but that at the end of the day, our community cares and is compassionate," says Israel Bayer, Street Roots' executive director. "There's a silent majority of Portlanders who care about homelessness and poverty issues. What happens is that these incendiary conversations and debates sometimes that blocks out the good stuff being done."

Bayer actually is understating his last point. The latest Oregon Values & Beliefs Project, conducted this spring, suggests it might actually be a silent supermajority. Something like 84 percent of respondents said they support job training for low-income people—with 79 percent support social services programs aimed at preventing hunger and homelessness.

"We welcome all of the groups who care about this issue," Bayer says, "and who want to take part in something positive."

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