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Since its creation in 2018, the Portland State University‘s Homelessness Research & Action Collaborative has dove headfirst into research and advocacy work centered around better approaches to handling the houselessness situation in Portland and abroad.
Several graduate students projects were presented for the HRAC at PSU’s Native American Student and Community Center on Thursday, October 10th.
Stefanie Knowlton, a communications specialist with the center, introduced the speakers. “Research only matters or matters most when it reaches people,” Knowlton stated “We want people to understand and care about the effort to prevent and solve homelessness on our campus and in our community,” she went on to say that the research presented at the event is meant to inspire others to do similar work. She then introduced Dr. Marisa Zapata.
Hear more from Zapata on Elia’s podcast Tripp-p:
Before giving her speech, Dr. Zapata acknowledged the local tribes which inhabited the land that PSU occupies, and asking for a moment of silence out of respect for them. The entire room went silent to honor Zapata’s request.
Zapata recently published a study that shows that there are possibly as many as 38,000 people in the tri-county area who could be classifiable as living in an unstable housing situation or houseless.
“We want to acknowledge the significant disparities particular those experienced by native, black, and homeless today are intrinsically linked to those tragedies”. She also spoke on #Disarm PSU and how the decision was made to continue arming PSU Campus Public Safety officers “despite the number of black men murdered by police each year and the outcry by students and faculty of color as well as those who work with unhoused people to remove those guns.”
She went on to say, “it has been an amazing year, the Homelessness Research & Action Collaborative was started about a year ago” and shared that at the beginning of its formation she was nervous, how the creation of the center was sudden, and its launching quickly announced with a press conference.
She further went into detail that the HRAC has been working with the Dean of Student Life and has been awarded a STEP grant which “will provide more access to food for our students” and that the new student / faculty / employee homelessness study will inform the need for that and is the first study of its kind that has been done nationwide.
“Our hope is with this kind of study and knowledge we’ll be able to explain to people better the needs of our students and staff,” and that it was created to “lift the messages of struggle that people are really trying to endure in order to complete their studies and to be a part of the PSU community.”
Zapata shared that Todd Ferry, a director with the center and professor of Architecture, is holding a village model design exhibit in Alaska. He spoke about what it was like working on these projects with students. After thanking all the students for their work, she introduced the different research and projects that have been done at the center.
Kenton Women’s Village
The first presenter for the event was Marta Petteni, who is with the Center for Public interestand design along with Emily Leickly, a Community Psychology graduate student who shared their experiences and lessons learned from working on the Kenton Women’s Village project.
Pettini kicked off the presentation by stating, “today we are going to present Kenton’s Women’s Village 1.0 and 2.0 as well as the findings from surveying of residents from the 2.0 phase.” She went on to say that PSU’s work with “the Portland local villages started back in late 2015 when a public emergency was declared and it was estimated there were about 4,000 people on the streets during any given night.”
She shared that several ideas including transitioning a warehouse were suggested but that advocates and those with the lived experience of houselessness described that as “a nightmare scenario, like an internment camp” and that this led to the work in designing the villages. She went into detail about how the center for public interest and design started working with the Village Coalition[no relation to Village Portland].
Editorial note: In the spirit of full disclosure, the writer of this article is a board member of the Village Coalition volunteering in a media advisory role.
Pettini went into detail about the difference between a pod home, which is used in the villages and a tiny house that has become a popular living choose. “Pods are different from tiny houses because they are not on wheels and it is under 100 sq. ft.” and that the villages and the pods could fill the gap between being houseless and getting sheltered.
“Villages are able to take advantage of un-utilized land”, she explained. In 2016, the process for starting the design of the pods began, and that 14 teams designed their own pods for the Women’s Village along with 21 different construction firms that helped with the construction.
“When the city identified the site in Kenton as a potential site we began working with the neighborhood association and brought them into the design process,” and that when it was approved they partnered with several different city governmental, like the Joint Office of Homeless Services, and non-profit organizations, like the Village Coalition, to get it built. The Kenton’s Women’s Village Project also inspired the Clackamas Veterans Village Project.
According to the nine residents of the village who participated in their survey at the time they came to the village they had been houseless on average about five years before coming to the village and only lived there transitionally about two and a half months.
According to Leickly, who presented their findings, seven of the women housed at Kenton’s had at least a high school diploma and five of them had college degrees. She also shared that the residents who participated in the survey were satisfied with the quality of their pods and the general living situation in the village.
Can we have better, more productive discussions? I believe we can.
Will it take a conscious decision to disregard the models on display in most of the mainstream media. Absolutely.
I opened the door to new ways of storytelling and community problem solving when I started Village Portland, and have been thankful to the folks who have answered the call.
Darren McCormick describes himself (even though he doesn’t like having to describe himself), as an amateur philosopher. He has developed, and has been testing out, a method called Debate by Agreement. And since we’re working on establishing a new Village Portland on the Portland State University campus (spearheaded by Cory Elia), we figured it would be a good idea to try it out on campus.
Thanks to everyone who participated, especially Blake with Freethinkers of PSU!
The PSU board voted this week to continue to have armed security on campus. Also included the inclusion of unarmed students to the new safety plan. Read more from the PSU Vanguard here.
Editor’s note: Here’s the original “Debate by Agreement” article posted on Village Portland from earlier this year. Since we are hosting a Debate by Agreement LIVE event on the Portland State University campus this week, we thought it would be a good idea to re-post it here.
“Equipped with a whiteboard, we’ll be set up in front of PSU’s Smith Hall * from noon to 2 pm on Wednesday, October 9th.
Come by, we’ll choose an argument, and you can learn more about the technique works in practice.
* If we get kicked off campus, we’ll set updown the Park Blocks at SW Market St.“
Smith Memorial Union, 1825 SW Broadway Blvd * noon – 2 pm
“Reasonable men can disagree. Truly reasonable men can agree about why they disagree.”
By DARREN McCORMICK
All else being equal, do you agree that a civil discussion is preferable to a heated one?
Do you agree that discussion of any kind is preferable to physical violence? Despite the current political climate of divisiveness and tribalism, I would wager that most Americans agree that civility is preferable.
But civility does not guarantee a productive conversation. I have seen too many high-profile, formal, debates where the debaters talk past each other without addressing each other’s arguments. I have seen too many politicians get away with dodging the question. High-stakes debates likely encourage the debaters to intentionally talk past each other, leaving both their opponent and her arguments behind, as a tactic to convince the audience. However, in informal debates, such as the kind that might occur at a Thanksgiving dinner between extended family members, talking past each other is divisive.
We should do better if we can.
In response, I am attempting to create a new debate format that relies on the principle of generosity and proceeds only by agreement between the debaters. The goal is to make our civil conversations more productive. It’s a work in progress that I call Debate by Agreement.
Editor’s note: Counter positions were taken by the writer to explicate the format. They are not personal endorsements.
Fundamentally, Debate By Agreement is an attempt to synthesize two competing arguments. It requires cooperation, giving the benefit of the doubt, using the principle of generosity, and taking an argument on its own terms. It is not a tactic for winning an argument. It is not for convincing the audience. It is about making progress with one particular person by joining them inside their arguments. If successful, both parties, and any audience present, know where and why their opinions diverge. If very successful, the parties agree on the type of evidence needed to resolve the disagreement. And if super successful, one party changes their mind.
To explain Debate by Agreement, consider an analogy of a vertical zipper, like the one on the front of a jacket. Two people who cannot find any common ground are like two sides of a zipper that are entirely disconnected. Two people who perfectly agree are like a zipper that has been sealed all the way to the top. More often than not, we agree on some things but not others, like a partially zipped zipper. To achieve greater agreement, we need to slide the zipper tab upwards, building on a basis of shared opinions and reconciling our disagreements as we go. To do this, we need know where and why our opinions diverge.
Here is the general method for practicing Debate by Agreement. Only move the conversation forward, or introduce new points, after agreeing about where the two of you stand on previous points. Agreements give us both a starting place for discussion and a tool to leverage against the arguments of our opponent should they contradict themselves. Neither party may use any arguments with which their interlocutor disagrees. A majority of the sentences used should begin with, “Do you agree that… ” or “Do you disagree that…”
In this way, one only needs to use a single sentence to both make a point and illicit the other person’s opinion on that point. Get them to join you inside your argument by asking, at each step, whether they agree or disagree. If they disagree, find out why. The goal should be to agree on where and why our opinions diverge.
Let’s examine a few examples of informal disagreements to get a better idea of how to find common ground. Consider a perfectly articulate wild bear that just stated her intentions to eat you. You may care about the well being of all creatures, but the bear may not. In short, you likely have different goals. A disagreement of this sort is so fundamental that your best option is probably a physical response, not a verbal one.
Consider a more common example: a disagreement between a white nationalist and an advocate for open borders. The white nationalist may claim that their goal is the success of white folks and the extermination of non-whites, in which case their goals are so different as to prevent productive civil discussion.
However, if the white nationalist is primarily motivated by a concern for the well being of the United States as a nation-state, then the two people may have a goal in common. A rational and civil discussion may actually be possible between these two people. Should the white supremacist make the latter claim, then their interlocutor would be wise to meet them in the common ground and use it to further a discussion of whether their methods accomplish the goal.
Should they find an agreed upon measure of the health of the United States, then they can compare methods of achieving that shared measure of well being. We might ask either side of the debate, “How do you think a particular method or policy will make the US better?” In other words, “What is your prediction?”
For another example, consider a disagreement between a person in favor of burning fossil fuels and one opposed. It is possible that the pro-fossil fuel person believes global warming would be a problem if it were happening, but that it isn’t. It is also possible that they believe global warming is happening, but that it is a good thing. Or they might believe that global warming is happening, is also bad, but that fossil fuels have nothing to do with causing it. Each one of these hypothetical positions requires a different type of evidence to refute. Unless we join the advocate for fossil fuel use in their own argument, we won’t know what it takes to convince them.
Finally, consider a disagreement over whether or not pineapple belongs on pizza. Debate by Agreement cannot help us here. Though both parties share a goal, enjoying pizza, there is no way to resolve differences of preference via agreement.
As a disclaimer, it is not always possible to reconcile differing opinions, and there are times when it is dangerous to even try. But as long as people are civil, don’t be too quick to conclude that a disagreement is irreconcilable. Remember that there is no one with whom we perfectly agree, and almost no one with whom we have no agreement whatsoever.
Thankfully, most humans share the goal of a just and healthy society, even if we do differ on what constitutes such a society and how best to create it. Debate by Agreement is a tool for encouraging progress in civil discourse between people of relatively equal reasoning ability. (If you are interested in engaging people with weaker reasoning and debate skills, check out Street Epistemology.)
Even with well-intended parties, it is not always possible to make progress, such as when differing opinions are based on differing predictions that cannot be tested. Even so, knowing where and why we disagree is still an improvement from feeling completely divided.
Hopefully, Debate by Agreement will help us realize what a combative argument would obscure: that most of us have far more common ground than disagreement. In other words, that the zipper is more than halfway zipped.
P.S. – I have been hitting the streets of the neighborhood, mainly Mississippi Ave, asking people for 5-minute interviews and attempting to use / refine Debate by Agreement. Special thanks to Wolff, Julie, and Aiden who were kind enough to give me some of their time. If you are interested in having a short debate or conversation to help develop debate-by-agreement, please contact Andrew Wilkins at Village Portland.
I’ll be back out on the street soon, with a white board looking for 5-minute guinea pigs. Maybe I’ll see you out there!
Darren McCormick is an amateur philosopher applying to masters programs in political science. When not giving kids chess lessons, he examines local practices and governance through a lens of political theory.
McLam has been reporting on Jason Barns Landing, a managed camp in North Portland that’s taking what I see as a civil disobedience approach to their camp. And their answering the question: what happens when homeless folk tire of being moved— tired of having their community scattered— keep coming back to the same place?
Both Elia and McLam are volunteers at community radio station KBOO, and use their equipment to publish a podcast called TRIP-P. Like KBOO, Open Signal, is a resource for community media creators that we’ve been collaborating with.
Another media non-profit that trains homeless youth in video storytelling we’re collaborating with, Outside the Frame, also uses Open Signal equipment.
When the 2019 Point-in-Time count which determines the number of houseless came out on Thursday, August 1st, it had been long anticipated by advocates throughout Portland.
According to the Joint Office of Homeless Services, there was about a 4 percent decrease in the number of houseless individuals counted from 2017 (4,177 counted in 2017) but there was a 22 percent increase seen of those living without a sufficient form of shelter from 2017.
“This year the Count identified 2,037 people who were unsheltered, 1,459 people sleeping in emergency shelter and 519 people in transitional housing. In all, the Count found 4,015 people who met HUD’s definition of homelessness,” it states in the official report.
2,037 people are the most unsheltered houseless individuals recorded in the last ten years during a count.
The definition of homelessness by HUD, however, doesn’t actually capture some of the states of houselessness. HUD’s definition is simply an individual that “lacks a fixed, regular, or adequate night-time residence,” this doesn’t include those in vehicles or who might be sharing a living space meant for a single individual.
There are multiple ways to define homelessness, however, and HUD’s definition is the most narrow. The McKinney-Vento Definition of Homelessness is broader than the HUD definition and only applies include children.
PSU’s Research Center took this into account and according to the executive summary for the 2019 PIT count, “PSU staff also conducted a separate count of neighbors whom the community would still consider homeless, but who do not meet HUD’s definition,” this included students living doubled up, couch surfing, or living on floors, in basements, or any other form of unconventional dwelling.
The Doubled Up Count conducted by the PSU’s Research Center pulled information from the Department of Human Services SNAP program and found that 9,546 households received food stamps from the program and identified as homeless.
However, during a recent event by Human Solutions called “Community Conversation: Solutions to Homelessness”, Andy Miller, the non-profit’s executive director, said that “under the Oxford dictionary definition of homeless around 15,000 households are living in a state of homelessness in Multnomah County.”
In a research paper of my own which I later added to my blog, I explored the inaccuracies of the Point-in-Time count. I also covered PSU’s research center’s involvement with the count in PSU’s student newspaper, and recently helped gather feedback from the homeless about a new program being proposed. So I have spent a fair amount of time studying the count and its methods.
When the numbers were reported I saw all the publications in town declare them like they were the definitive numbers like those numbers actually including everyone struggling with housing. Well, spoiler alert… they don’t.
Along with acknowledged limitations in its counting methods, more than half the houseless individuals I talked to personally stated that they were never approached or surveyed for the 2019 count.
The count was conducted in two ways: one was a shelter count conducted on the night of January 23, 2019, at city-operated, emergency, and private warming shelters across the city, while the other part was done over a week by volunteers surveying with PSU’s Research Center going camp to camp in the different neighborhoods during the day.
Even during the harsh winter weather Portland can experience in late January when the count was conducted, there was a limited amount of shelter and emergency warming shelters available for the houseless of the city. So the number of homeless from that party of the count would have reached a limit based on how many beds were available.
While volunteering at the emergency shelter hosted at Portland Central Church of the Nazarene near Powell Boulevard and I-205, I saw multiple people turned away due to already meeting at capacity, or not having enough volunteers to offer more beds.
There are also houseless individuals who will do nearly anything to keep themselves indoors, warm, and relatively safe during the winter, that includes squatting in abandoned buildings.
Then there is another theory I’ve heard multiple times since the count: that houseless individuals could have been away from their camp during for the week of the count. They could have been seeking out resources or working and not utilizing the shelters during the night of January 23rd.
Due to things like these during the count, some of those houseless went uncounted.
This was the most through PIT count so far due to the efforts of Tiffany Conklin and the PSU Research Center, but the 2019 numbers are only a partial capturing of the houseless population of Portland.
The number generated from the Point-in-Time count will be used to identify the amount of federal funding the City of Portland will receive from HUD to address the houseless crisis in Portland.
Cory Elia is a journalist, photographer, videographer, documentary director & producer, radio personality & podcaster. His journalistic focus is on politics, protest, and poverty.