Six years ago, on Sept. 23, 2015, former Portland Mayor Charlie Hales announced to the City Council his plans to declare a housing emergency in Portland.
Portlanders "have come to a point of compassion fatigue and I think people want us to move more quickly," Hales declared.
Reflecting the urgency of the moment, the City Council adopted the declaration weeks later, on Oct. 7. 2015. It was official: Portland was suffering a homeless crisis.
Fast forward six years.
Are more services more available to people who need them? Has the city, as promised, streamlined its bureaucratic processes, easing the way for more humane shelters? Has the city identified buildings or areas to house people in need?
Government bureaucrats will say yes on all counts. But we don't agree that the pace or scope of their efforts has been sufficient to address the problem. The status quo of today is unacceptable.Â
The people of Portland have done their part. Voters have approved a City Housing Bond, Metro Housing Bond and Metro homeless services tax. Local governments' budgets for housing and homeless services have increased each year. During the pandemic, our state and federal governments have allocated huge rescue packages designed to help house and care for people in need.
And, yet, the number of people living under blue tarps and on Portland streets has grown exponentially. The Oregonian recently reported that the city received 6,869 complaints about unsanitary and unsafe homeless camps over just 37 days.
The chief executive officer of the United Way of the Columbia-Willamette recently resigned from the Home for Everyone board, citing a lack of innovative ideas and no sense of urgency.
That made it all the more unbelievable to read a recent column from three non-profit advocates who wrote that Portland shouldn't move too fast in resolving the humanitarian crisis on our streets. These advocates are not only on the wrong side of public opinion, they apparently don't have an actual solution to propose to the humanitarian crisis we have collectively faced for six years.
A recent survey for People for Portland shows an overwhelming majority, 84% of Portland's voters, want greater urgency and action.
Practically, we can do better. Morally, we must act now to save the city we all live in together.
On the sixth anniversary of this crisis, here are a few questions Portlanders demand answered: What is the actual size and scope of the current homeless crisis? How many people are living on the streets in Multnomah County right now? What is the past trend-line and the future forecast?
What's a reasonable way to measure progress and success? What are the target goals for transitioning people from the street to a temporary shelter to longer-term housing? How are local, state, regional and federal funds being used to achieve these goals?
How many temporary shelter beds or other similar solutions exist right now in Multnomah County? How may "net" new permanent housing units have been built from the Portland and Metro housing bond dollars? How many total units will be built by when and at what cost per unit?
Why the specific hostility to the city safe, rest village plan? Isn't it an important part of the transition to permanent solutions? One of the authors of the guest column said it was "beyond paternalistic" for those living on the streets to have to follow "a set of rules" in managed villages. Doesn't everyone else have to do exactly that in a civilized society? Does this represent the views of all 100 homeless advocate organizations and city and county elected leaders?
Since launching People for Portland on Aug. 20, more than 30,000 people have visited our website and more than 125,000 emails have been delivered to 36 local elected officials.
Clearly, Portlanders are not happy with the failure of their elected officials to rescue their hometown and end the humanitarian crisis on our streets. Two homeless Portlanders — Debbie and Josh — agreed to be interviewed and appear on our website and television ads. Debbie summed up how most of us feel: "I never thought Portland would let us down this bad".
Six years in crisis. It's time elected officials listened to Debbie and to the rest of us.
Dan Lavey and Kevin Looper of Portland are co-founders of People for Portland.
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