Portland has many transients or homeless holding up signs for change. They are diverse in age, but not in race (they are almost always white). Usually they have a back pack or two. The younger folks downtown usually have dogs. Most have cardboard signs with variations on “Anything Helps, God Bless” and often additional comments, “Just need a place to sleep,” “Need $47.50 for bus fare to Seattle,” “Pregnant and Homeless.” There are a few spots at the free way on and off ramps that are always occupied.
One day the spot on Burnside next to the Crystal Ballroom was taken by a woman holding up a brightly colored, handpainted sign. She had several others propped up against a nearby utility pole. I checked my wallet and all I had was three dollars, and I offered it to her for her sign. It was painted with what I think used to be called “poster paint” on corrugated cardboard. On the back it explained she needed money for contact lenses. There was also a brief grocery list.
I thought the picture was beautiful, but I felt funny framing and putting up a spanging sign in my house. I picked up a used frame at goodwill that didn’t fit. The sign sat in my house for months. Then I found a frame made of loosely assembled raw boards that proved to be the exact right size. So now it sits in my entry, above the door to my living room. I still think it’s beautiful and I still feel strange about owning it. I wish I’d had more to give the artist. For all I know she’s a grifter. Or maybe she’s found something to keep her a little more securely. But I look for her some times.