Where Am I?

This is where it began, in the Pearl District of Portland, Oregon. I came to Portland on a spontaneous day trip from Eugene in the first week of June 2013 with a girl I had been “dating or whatever.” She was going to visit her parents in the South West and it was “too soon” to meet them. I told her to just drop me off anywhere and I’d return to Eugene with her the next day. All I had were a few sketchbooks, a variety of Copic ink pens, and the clothes I was wearing. I was going to draw the bridges over the Willamette River and spend the night under the stars! I started with the Steel Bridge, then the Morrison and Hawthorne Bridges. I was on an old Santa Cruz short board traveling up and down the waterfront pedestrian and bicycle path when I decided to skate into the heart of downtown to get a feel for the nightlife. I pushed along NW Broadway and noticed a man sleeping on the corner, his feet sticking out of his sleeping bag and his hands folded below his head to create a pillow.

COPYRIGHT Jacob Koopmann 2013

COPYRIGHT  2013  Jacob A. Koopmann

All of his possessions stuffed into a Safeway shopping cart, a bag full of random cans and bottles hung to the side of the handle. I stepped back and leaned against a car parked on the corner and began to sketch him quickly in an effort not to offend him if he woke up. However, I was so inspired with what I had just created I, without hesitation, approached and awoke the man to show him this drawing. He was so blown away that someone had stopped to draw him. He did not understand. It was at that moment i realized how invisible and voiceless this man was feeling. I DID wake him up though so I chose not to burden him with questions that potentially may have brought about feelings of hurt or anger or both.  I went on my way and stopped at Ground Control, a bar-cade a few blocks away for a grilled cheese “sammich”, a PBR, and some pinball. I was on a mini vacation after all! On my way out I couldn’t help but notice a man sitting on the asphalt of a pay to park lot next-door flying a sign that read “I’m only $5 away from a hooker.” Memories of my own mothers and older brothers struggle with homelessness and their stories of “flying a sign” flooded my mind and I decided to ask him specifically about the events that took place just weeks prior to that first night he ever slept on the sidewalks. I wanted to know what happens in someones life when they go from having a house or apartment, a car, maybe a family, a husband or wife, to becoming “houseless.” I documented his story in one of my sketchbooks and asked him if I could draw him, he did not oppose. His story of life before houselessness was not an uncommon one. He had a family, an apartment, a job, a car. He “had it all.” We ended the “meeting” with a trade. I gave him two markers to continue his sign game for an LED flashlight I could use to write in the dark when i “went to bed or whatever.” I made my way back to the water front but the temperature dropped considerably. I shivered on a raised patio of a south water front business. I wanted to get away from the busy energy of downtown and  found my self standing directly underneath the skytram that takes you to OHSU. I crossed the pedestrian bridge over the freeway and walked east. I scoped out the roof of a yoga studio that was also directly underneath the skytram. I circled it once to feel the scene. It was completely silent other than the traffic from the close by freeway, but it served as a sort of white noise and helped me relax. I had this “instinct” to get off the ground and the roof seemed like a safe place to be. All worry of police encounter disappeared because I really had no where else to sleep and I just wanted to feel “safe.” I truly felt that if I wasn’t looking for trouble it wouldnt find me either. I climbed up for just that reason. I did not feel safe down on the sidewalk. I dozed in and out of a still shivering sleep. I opened my eyes finally and watched the tram go up and down the cables, back and forth, back and forth. It was so peaceful.
I took that skytram to the top and watched the sunrise with a cup of coffee over this spectacular city of bridges, It was like love at first site…….  Since the beginning of the year I have felt this “big project” coming. I imagined this enormous canvas I would paint or maybe attempt a sculpture or something.. I held that sketchbook in my hands and realized right then and there that THIS was my “huge project.” And so was born what i now call many weeks later, Project Portland: The Bridge to Haplessness… I would document the “street life” of Portland with a primary focus on the people who “live outside.” But I would not just document it in my “time off.” I would sleep on the sidewalks and rooftops, eat at the missions and churches, learn the resources. I wanted to get as close as I could to “true perspective.” Its the end of July now and I am still out here. My car in Eugene so that I am not tempted to sleep it. My bed made neatly. My books lie on the desk just as I left them….My mission has evolved tremendously since my arrival in June and I have not experienced a single dull second out here. This city is made of magic……. Stay tuned…….