Shariff Abdullah: No one-size-fits-all solution for garbage and poverty

24 Nov 2018

The Commonway Institute director talks about the intersection between homelessness and waste management

From Street Roots, November 24th, by Jared Paben

Shariff Abdullah asked the crowd if they’d ever heard the expression “poor white trash.” Hands raised throughout the hotel ballroom. 

“What you are talking about is a human being,” he said. “What you’re talking about is as much a spark of the divine as you are. The only difference is money.” 

Society doesn’t just think of discarded materials as trash; it allows people to be labeled as such, Abdullah said. Addressing the issues of both homelessness and waste requires a change in our consciousness, as well as the culture and behaviors that underlie that consciousness, he said. 

Abdullah was presenting to a crowd of public and private garbage and recycling industry professionals at an event organized by the Association of Oregon Recyclers. Abdullah, director of Portland nonprofit Commonway Institute, was the keynote speaker for the Nov. 13 gathering at the Sheraton Portland Airport Hotel. Focused on the intersection of homelessness and solid waste, the event drew local experts from the public, nonprofit and for-profit sectors to discuss programs that provide housing, medical services, needle exchanges, garbage cleanups, environmental remediation services and more.