Who John Reese Is

John Reese is a fifty-year-old Vietnam vet who was formerly homeless and my comrade. John now lives in a tent. John needs a cot to sleep on. A cot would get John up off the foamy pad and folded blankets he sleeps on on the floor of the tent, up off the ground. Sometimes John's tent leaks in heavy rain and his blankets get wet. John is a double-amputee. John has a wheelchair. John is a diabetic. A little over a year-and-a-half ago, John left the Central City flophouse he lived in because of the rats and the roaches. John thought living 'mongst rats and roaches was nasty. John lived here and there, in doorways mostly. Last August John lived in a parking lot on Glisan Street with as many as eighteen other people. I lived there, too. When I met John, I had cardboard to sleep on but no blanket to sleep in. John had two blankets and gave me one of his. The dissolution of the parking lot "camp" came about at the end of August because of the rampant drug use of some of the people who lived there. John doesn't drink alcohol or use tobacco or any other drug. John moved under the Broadway Bridge across from the Post Office and slept in a number of parking spaces there. On 19 September 2000 street roots voted unanimously at a General Meeting to initiate a campaign for a sanctioned tent city. On 27 September 2000 Multnohmah County Circuit Judge Steven Gallagher overturned the camping ban which had been in force for nineteen years on the grounds that it constituted "cruel and unusual punishment" in that it discriminated against we poor people (the "homeless") on the basis of our status and condition in that it denied us the human right to lay down our blankets and get our rest. Judge Gallagher's decision electrified and galvanized conscious elements in the homeless community. Some elements of the homeless community in Portland, Oregon, among them John Reese, rose up admirably to the challenge history had thrown down. We began organizing around the Out of the Doorways campaign. John was crucial early in our campaign in bringing on the support side of our endeavor. In early October John's remaining leg was amputated because of his diabetes. Four days after John's surgery, John was back living in a parking space under the Broadway Bridge. What happened to John Reese is wrong. Out of the Doorways gained momentum because of John Reese, our soldiers pitched their tents on a piece of God's earth near the Train Station on 16 December 2000, a piece of land recently purchased by the wealthy Naito family. The rest, as they say, is history.

John Reese, Dignity Village's number one soldier, now works in the village's stores and provisions tent. He has been the Grand Marshall of every one of our now famous parades, stopping traffic at crosswalks and making sure that every shopping cart got safely through. John is a quiet man but his voice is often heard at Dignity Village as are all our voices. John often jokes that he was six-feet-two but is now two-feet-short. John is a likkle, short man, but him a tallwah. There is no least one among us. John has a good heart. We Dignity soldiers salute John Reese. We have come too far to go back. The only way we can go is forward.

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