Homeless Voices for Justice was devastated to read of yet another death in the homeless community. James Stewart’s death, reported Sept. 2, brings the count to eight this summer alone. Can you imagine if eight members of another community in Portland had passed in two months? What would the response be then?
We are angered about The Portland Press Herald’s ongoing use of the term "transient." Jim was not transient, nor were others who died this summer. They were beloved neighbors and friends well known to those of us in the homeless community, as well to the business owners and patrons, coffee shop baristas, grocery store employees, taxi drivers, and other community members that we all interact with every day.
At our memorial services, we are often surprised by the strong community response for those who have died. Take the example of a man who passed his days at the Hannaford on Forest Avenue, ate his meals at the soup kitchen and spent his nights either at the shelter or in his modest apartment. His death was mourned by many, and one can find a plaque honoring his memory above the bench he loved to warm at Hannaford. A transient he was not.
Labeling someone like Jim, an established community member, as transient perpetuates the misconception that people flock to Portland from "away" for services. Studies and statistics prove otherwise.
We urge you to use more accurate language when referring to men and women who were born in greater Portland, attended Portland schools, worked side-by-side with friends and neighbors, and at the time of their death were staying at a shelter.
Transients they are not. The difference between "us" and "them" is that "they" didn’t have the dignity of a bed and a home in which to die.
Homeless Voices for Justice