According to the Welcome Home Coalition, Portland needs 40,000 affordable housing units. In the time that it will take to get there, more Portlanders will become homeless. Every person on the streets is deserving of our compassion and help, and laws must be enforced for everyone’s safety.
If a major earthquake hit Portland today and 2,000 people were on the streets without homes or resources, there would be no question that we would come to their aid with shelter, medical care, food, and safety. There would be no waiting lists, no qualifiers, no questions. The situation today in Portland is a humanitarian crisis, not just a housing crisis. We do not have time to wait for housing to be built while we form yet another committee, or to consign them to substandard camps while people continue to suffer. We need to provide aid now and a housing recovery plan that starts today.
Every day, in all parts of Portland, I see the homeless wrapped in blankets and huddled in doorways or pitching tents in public right of ways, and I am ashamed of my city. We are one of the most progressive, liberal, liveable cities in the country and we can’t do better than letting our fellow human beings sleep on the street? Sanctioning what is already happening, whether it be homeless camps or sleeping in sidewalks, is not real policy — it’s just throwing up our hands and saying we can’t do anything. We can do better and we must do better.
We can do better than mandating homeless camps in every neighborhood. There are permitted camps now and the city isn’t even providing adequate basic sanitation services to them. How can we think that institutionalizing 100 more camps is going to solve the problem?
Seattle has begun a new more compassionate way to disperse illegal camping. They post 72 hour notices before going into areas of high concentration of homeless with a team of drug and alcohol councilors, youth counselors, and homeless advocates in addition to police officers for safety. They are able to offer immediate access to shelter beds, treatment center beds, or vouchers for a motel. For those who do not choose to accept immediate help, their belongings are labeled and stored for up to 60 days. While not every homeless person will accept assistance at the time, many do – or will the next time. Portland needs to act quickly to adopt the same strategy here.
I believe that every neighborhood is full of concerned, compassionate people who want to help. I’ve seen in my own neighborhood reach out to the homeless with compassion and creative problem solving. When as a city we can show that we can address the immediate problem, then we can turn to engage each neighborhood in the process of finding a solution that fits the neighborhood and encourages the residents to come be part of that solution.