Tinkers, barterers, dealing & disability

My latest blog post on Medium.com/@poorforaminute looks at the underground economy in the largest homeless camp in the nation:

A man on dialysis, sucking ice in his tent on a 93-degree day, survives on “food stamps and God.” As he does, he imagines buying a home with tens of thousands from a Social Security Disability lump sum payment he’s confident he’ll get this month.

A Tsimshian Native Alaskan has a stock portfolio and has saved $1,200 from biannual dividends — but he and his campmate still go “canning” almost every day, which helps him budget.

A young woman who recently gave up her 2-year-old toddler to a family member stays with her sick mom, who fell off a barge; she donates plasma to supplement her mom’s worker’s compensation biweekly check of $505.

Coatis Franks with his registered service dog, Harry, in his tent along the Springwater Corridor. Photo by Thacher Schmid.

Stereotypes of urban homeless, easily visible on Portland social media threads, gravitate towards “lazy, crazy drug addicts that can’t be helped,” as the National Coalition for the Homeless website puts it. Yet end-of-July interviews with a couple dozen people camping in the Springwater Corridor show the quasi-legal “underground” economy there to be more complicated, creative and multifaceted.

Putting aside their worry about a planned city sweep Sept. 1, campers there carefully budget, creatively scavenge, access entitlements and work jobs. Merged in a survival-based system, the black market for stolen or “boosted” items (bikes and parts, phones, electronics, EBT cards) blends seamlessly with legal stuff (cans, plasma, food, water, services, clothes, furniture) — much of which is gathered through dumpster diving. There are illegal drugs, but also legal ones.

Read the rest of the story here.

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