Community Fridges

Community Fridges

Portland is full of churches, food halls, and countless other services for the homeless and those that need assistance of any kind. Recently, free community fridges have became a bit of a thing in Portland. You can find them in a lot of places around Portland and they’re run by individuals who I absolutely believe have their heart in the right place, but I think have underestimated the difficulty and serious issues many on the streets are experiencing.

As the article points out, ordinary folks who are trying to do good things are very quickly being confronted by the serious mental health and safety issues homeless work can involve. This was a lesson I learned very early in my homeless work at the Downtown Chapel. The staff would give volunteers a minimal amount of training on safety. First names only, no personal info about yourself or where you live. All you can offer is what is provided, do not give out anything else (money, fliers, etc). The reality is that many times we had to deal with people who became violent, suffered serious mental health issues, or even serious criminal tendencies. Long-time volunteers knew how to spot trouble and defuse it – but that came from lots of experience and from professionals trained in handling these issues. These are issues the people in this article point out that they are not equipped to handle.

So who can handle it? Not well meaning people without training or coffee shop employees. Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz has long led and advocated for progressive policies. He was one of the first to denounce a bathroom incident after a black customer was refused access and opened bathrooms to all who come in. He pushed very hard for LGBTQ policies. Even he has changed his mind. In a recent interview about closing urban Starbucks stores due to worker safety issues this policy created he said (and I think rightly):

“I must say, in my view at the local, state and federal level, these governments across the country and leaders, mayors and governors, city councils have abdicated their responsibility in fighting crime and addressing mental health,” Schultz reportedly said at an internal meeting, according to a video posted on Twitter.

From my own work, you need people trained in how to deal with the serious issues that create homelessness. Drug addiction, mental health issues, and violence are real issues that lead many to the streets. Homeless services must set up boundaries and safety for both the workers (as Starbucks has learned) and those in need. This requires serious effort, education, proper environments, and leadership. It’s not something the average person should be doing if they do not have this kind of training. The assaults and dangers in the article are evidence of this.

Another issue is who is behind some community fridges. Started as a social justice initiative, there is definitely an anti-governmental/anarchist tone to one of the largest operators. PDX Free Fridge said they didn’t ‘consent’ to a story being written and thought that coverage could ‘jeopardize the safety’ of the project when contacted by a local news agency. This is a similar increasingly violent and disturbing reaction to any media coverage from extremist left-wing activist groups in Portland.

Democracy is founded on a free press and freedom of information – not on secrecy, threats, and non-transparent leadership and finances. Hundreds of other organizations are able to operate openly as non-profits – registered and adhere to audits and local law without issues. Any group that cannot identify it’s leaders, it’s principles, nor subject itself to audits of it’s finances is not an organization a Democracy wants to get behind. It’s definitely not a step forward in public policy. It’s also likely not to yield any fruits. Over the last 5-10 years, I’ve seen these kind of secretive Portland groups make lots of grandiose promises but very quickly disappear with little to show for it. They have a history of misappropriating funds and leaving the bulk of the fallout on volunteers/workers (who went unpaid) backs. Even BLM was blocked from fundraising in California in 2021 due to questionable use of it’s filings, real estate purchases, and payouts to closely related persons which lead to co-founder Patrisse Cullors resigning in May 2021. This demonstrates how critical financial and leadership transparency is to any movement.

Personally, I’ll continue to support the excellent work being done by the Blanchette House, St Francis Dining Hall, Downtown Chapel, and countless other public, accredited, and open groups that safely provide housing, meals, jobs, utility assistance, health care, education, and every other need. They also do this work with both financial and leadership transparency while keeping their volunteers and staff safe.

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