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Earlier this month, Mayor Hales announced his new “Safe Sleep Policy,” which currently prohibits tents, but allows sleeping bags and tarps on all of Portland’s sidewalks between 9 p.m. and 7 a.m.


People who insist on using tents apparently will be directed to unspecified city rights of way and “remnant” areas, and the city apparently plans to work with nonprofits to site sanctioned tent and RV campgrounds. But these are just guesses because the mayor’s office says the “plan” is to develop the details as they go along.

PORTLAND BUSINESS ALLIANCEThe Alliance remains deeply troubled by the suggestion that camping — in sleeping bags, tents and RVs — is now somehow considered a solution. It is our position that turning a blind eye to outdoor sleeping and sanctioning camps is neither humane nor safe and certainly not a solution for the more than 2,000 people asking the city to find them a dry, safe and clean place to sleep.

Plain and simple, an ill-conceived authorization to allow outdoor sleeping and camping without a single new shelter bed added to our current inventory is not a plan, it is a failure of leadership — and it is certainly not a solution.

In fact, safety is becoming an increasing concern — especially the safety of those individuals sleeping on our streets and in open spaces. We recently learned that, according to the Portland Police Bureau, there have been 11 serious assaults (those classified as Measure 11 crimes) involving homeless individuals just since Jan. 1 of this year. Eight of these 11 assaults were stabbings. The number of homicides involving the homeless increased to seven in 2015, up from five in 2014 and three in 2013.

Our partners at Downtown Clean & Safe see other evidence of illegal or uncivil behaviors. Since 2012, the number of used hypodermic needles recovered by Clean & Safe cleaners on downtown streets has almost tripled, peaking at 8,220 in 2015. And the number of “biohazards” cleaned up (e.g., human feces), has almost doubled to 41,291 in 2015.

The knee jerk reaction is to assume that homeless individuals are causing the chaos and associated livability issues and crimes; occasionally, but not always, that may be the case. Certainly, it is not fair to imply that all, or even most, of the people on the street are lawbreakers, and we do not believe that to be the case. But it is clear that homeless individuals are frequently the victims of these crimes because they sleep outside. As Portlanders, we should all demand a better solution from our elected leaders.

The Portland Business Alliance was proud to help with the recent opening of the Peace Shelter downtown, which was made possible through the extraordinary generosity of the Barry Menashe family and the quick response from Commissioner Dan Saltzman and Transition Projects. The Peace Shelter is a wonderful example of the generosity and compassion of our business community and the power of public/private partnerships. Additionally, Multnomah County converted a former strip club on the eastside into a shelter for women, and the city has converted an unused armory in Southwest Portland to house women and couples this winter. These three locations are safely and humanely housing the homeless, but most of the beds they provide are temporary.

Meanwhile, the city owns many empty or little used buildings which could provide a dry, clean, safe place to sleep. However, even after the mayor’s declaration of a housing emergency four months ago, these buildings remain closed to the homeless and, instead, the mayor’s plan appears to “institutionalize” and normalize thousands of our fellow human beings sleeping on the streets.

Since last summer, the Alliance has been encouraging Portlanders to call Mayor Hales to ask for solutions to our city’s homelessness crisis. Based on this latest ill-conceived “plan” from the mayor’s office, I think the time has come to change our strategy. Today, I am going to suggest a new approach: Please contact the other four members of Portland City Council, Dan Saltzman, Amanda Fritz, Nick Fish and Steve Novick, and tell them that the mayor’s got it wrong. Ask them to devise a real “Safe Sleep” plan that focuses on providing a warm, dry and safe indoor place for our city’s most vulnerable individuals to sleep.

To learn more about the Alliance’s advocacy in this area, please visit: pdxcandobetter.com.


Mitch Hornecker is executive vice president and chief legal officer, West Region, at Howard S. Wright Balfour Beatty Construction. He can be reached at: [email protected]e.com

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