A Radical Guide (ARG) has had the privilege to be in conversation with the comrade at PDX Houseless Radicals Collective (PDXHRC). PDXHRC are in the process of building a campsite within Portland, Or. city limits to provide a safe communal mutual-aid based place for Portland’s houseless people to camp and are leading the conversation with the public about houseless people rights to put down roots in a place of their choosing and build supportive safer communities.
We hope you enjoy this interview and will show your support for PDXHRC.
ARG: Who is PDX Houseless Radicals Collective?
PDXHRC: We are a collective of leftists, all anarcho-communists right now but there’s no required ideology to be part of the collective as long as there are shared goals and the use of mutual aid to accomplish those goals. Personally, I support and the other members support leftist unity right now. We can argue Marx vs. Kropotkin after the revolution. As for the current/founding members we have all spent significant time houseless, I personally have also worked in the non-profit sector specifically in homeless youth services, and studied social work in college. Our individual experiences as houseless people cover a broad cross-section of houseless “culture”. I have been houseless by choice when I was young and hopping trains and I’ve been houseless due to decade-long heroin addiction. One comrade was houseless in a tent behind a strip mall after an eviction and went to work every day. With an already large houseless population, looming eviction from COVID, and the state’s history of useless and even harmful policies which hinder nonprofits we felt we could make a difference by more radical means. Some of us were already houseless and we think that’s an advantage.
ARG: What are you attempting to achieve in Portland?
PDXHRC: The original idea was to build a camp in a place I camped before for years at a time and been safe from state violence. The state sweeps camps because classiest homeowners who see the houseless as “undesirable” put on pressure to remove us. In more city center or downtown areas, it’s business associations/alliances, often there the same people. When houseless people get lucky and manage to have a camp that slipped through the cracks long enough to make the argument they were an established community and sometimes have some public support the authorities always have excuses to convince the public they were incapable of taking care of ourselves. We have a plan, we think can address these issues.
After putting ourselves out there and networking we see can and should have a broader scope. By already being outside it’s easy to just move into a camp that needs help with defense from sweeps and unlike housed activists, we don’t have the responsibilities in “normal” life which limits folks’ availability and schedule. Together we have a lot of knowledge about how to keep government intrusion at camps to a minimum we can share with camps as they pop up.
ARG: What is mutual aid?
PDXHRC: Mutual aid is the fundamental principle originally popularized by Peter Kropotkin in Mutual Aid: A factor in evolution which most anarchist theorists, with the exception of some egoists and anarcho-capitalists, the latter of which are not really anarchist, put forward as the way how an anarchist society can function. The basic idea is simple, if everyone helps others however they’re able then everyone can have their needs met. Kropotkin pointed out that this is how animals survive and they do it without complex hierarchical systems. It can be easily applied in small-scale situations such as a camp or larger ones such as the impressive network which Portland leftists have built over the last year beginning with protest support and expanding to countless areas of need.
ARG: How is it different from charity work?
PDXHRC: Charities with a few exceptions are generally either run by churches who have evangelism as a primary motive, or are secular but rely on state funding or grants from organizations such as the United Way. These funding sources have guidelines that have to be strictly followed in order to receive funds. A good example would be places that give housing to houseless people. Funding almost always requires clients to be clean and sober before they can even apply and if approved must submit to random drug testing. If they relapse they are evicted and it was all for nothing as they are back wherever they started. In relation to what we are doing specifically, nonprofits are often forced to report camp size, location, and other information to the city or county government.
An exemption would be JOIN here in Portland. They do not expect anything but private donations. Many years ago they helped me detox from heroin and bought me drugs for 5 days while I waited to get into detox. That is something that grants would NEVER allow. The problem is there are only so many private donors with more limited funds. So reach is very limited.
ARG: What is Laurelhurst camp and what is happening in the Laurelhurst camp?
PDXHRC: It’s just one of many houseless camps around town under threat of displacement by the city. This is not the first time leftists have organized its defense and unfortunately, it won’t be the last. It’s a never-ending struggle and while defending Laurelhurst the city hit another smaller camp nearby. It’s never-ending under a capitalist system.
ARG: What are some of the ways the decision-making process of the government and social services system is fundamentally flawed when it comes to meeting people’s housing needs?
PDXHRC: The government is in the business of supporting the capitalist business and landowners. Neither of which by nature houseless people are part of. There is enough housing for everyone. Under capitalism, it cannot meet the need because it’s not profitable.
ARG: What tools (policies, legislation, court rulings, institutions, etc) are used by the state to limit the rights of homeless people?
PDXHRC: We don’t have the time to keep up with the huge amount of legislation especially since much is attached to other bills and you don’t hear about it until it is enforced. But in my experience, the government doesn’t ever do what’s in our best interest as houseless people. With maybe the exception of getting rid of vagrancy laws, however, those are being put back disgusted as other things. Locally city council is passing new regulations were opposed to which they say makes it easier for homeless camps by sanctioning them. That’s bullshit though what it does is allow camps if they are 1. Not in a park and 2. Is run by the city or approved non-profit following city regulations and further criminalizes non-sanctioned camps the problems are obvious.
ARG: Related to the question above, what are the barriers to distributing resources to houseless people that are imposed by the state? How could mutual aid circumvent those barriers?
PDXHRC: Mutual aid as practiced by anarchists only cares about getting people’s needs met. The way I see it that can even be if you need drugs. It’s like I used to tell people when I was using when they say they won’t give money to people who may buy drugs. I’d say that’s fine I’ll just break into your car when you’re not looking then and take your shit if that works better for you. That’s not good for anyone in the community. So we’ll pay for someone’s drugs when they are down on their luck. Then they don’t bring the heat on everyone else by pissing off the neighborhood when they do what they need to. No one is able to dictate what an anarchist mutual aid network does. Even if they try there’s one in charge to pressure.
ARG: How could conditions for houseless people radically change if they were the ones in control of the decision-making process around housing policies? What would it take for this to happen?
PDXHRC: Houseless people have mutual goals and needs. If we can all unite and make our voices heard I think people would see us as humans with feelings and needs like anyone else. If 1000 of us show up at city council meetings to voice our opposition to laws that harm us people would have to listen. How to do that is challenging and we’re just beginning to come up with strategies. That will take effort and coordination with other groups or factions which is tough.
ARG: What are some examples of the systems your collective is building in the community to meet houseless people’s needs?
PDXHRC: We have a vision of bringing people together to have a voice as I discussed. We’re also very motivated to occupy a public space where we can build a camp that will function on mutual aid principles. We want to build it keeping in mind the things the city government uses when clearing camps which are more established and have some public support. This means having systems in place to deal with garbage and human waste that sort of thing.
ARG: What challenges have you faced/anticipate facing as you build this community and system of mutual aid?
PDXHRC: All of our members so far have dealt with struggles that have kept us from being much of a presence in the leftist community. Their security concerns obviously since despite the fact that we’re the good guys standing up for human rights that’s not how we’re seen by everyone, especially after four years with a literal fascist as the president who lied about most everything. Networking was difficult at first but just trying to put ourselves out there seems to be working out. The things we want to do building a camp will take a lot of work from individuals and collectives. There is also that thing that we all have seen takedown movements when other leftists’ criticism is not constructive and attacking in a sense. It’s not widespread but we deft with it right off. I’m don’t want to get into it as we made a decision to ignore toxic situations and not sow division. As I’ve said we believe leftist unity is important to the movement. We are eager to hear constructive criticism and learn from people with more experience
ARG: What wisdom and basic strategies do you have to share with individuals and groups wanting to build something similar in their own communities?
PDXHRC: Really if you have ideas you believe can help your community or further the revolution get yourself out there. If you’re looking to join a mutual aid network or create one A Radical Guide is a good resource so is Itsgoingdown.org. As much as I hate to say it youtube is a good place to learn about anarchism and praxis. Personally, I like Thought Slime and Non-Compete. Radical Reviewer does a good job breaking down literature. Find some comrades and learn from them.
ARG: How can people support your efforts?
We can take cash through a cash app at $radicalcamping. We have an address where we can get mail and packages. For the safety of people living there, I’m not going to make it public but email info[at]radicalcamping.org and we can give it.