Nelson Mandela said:
“There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.”
If that is true, our society has a very dark soul.
Portland, Oregon, like so many American cities, is struggling to deal with the problem of homelessness. As the winter goes on, and homeless people struggle to find shelter and warmth, the death toll grows in Portland, as it does around the country.
Five people have already died of exposure on Portland’s streets this month.
Four of them were adults, many struggling with addiction and mental illness.
But the fifth death was the one that should break all of our hearts and make us question everything.
The fifth death in Portland in the few short days that make up 2017 was the death of a tiny newborn baby. The little boy was found on January 9 on a freezing morning.
He was with his mother at a bus stop. He never even had a name.
Not even a name to remember him by.
The mother of the baby, like so many people who find themselves living the life of the invisible on our city streets, suffers from mental illness.
The Willamette Week reports that the woman was standing at the bus stop just before dawn on January 9. She was pushing a shopping cart and wearing a coat, but no shoes. She stopped to show a man passing by that she had her baby under her coat. She opened the garment to show off her son.
The man, seeing the state she was in, told her to cover the child. Then he called 911.
When police arrived, the woman was unable to provide a coherent story about the baby. She didn’t know who the father was, or where the baby had been born.
Police determined that the little boy had been born some hours earlier in a “transient camp” for the homeless. He had never been inside a building. He had never been warm.
He had never been given a name.
Although he was rushed to a local hospital, and although doctors worked for a long time to revive him, the poor little baby was pronounced dead.
His life was only hours long. All he ever knew was the cold.
What does this say about our society? What does it mean to live in a country where billionaires make the laws and set the policies that govern us, while mentally ill women are left helpless on the streets?
How do we reconcile ourselves to the death of a tiny baby, born too early, born in the cold, born to only suffering?
He never even had a name.
Here is the story of another Mother and child living on Portland’s streets.