Our view: Metro leader did right to start clock on homeless fix
Portlanders, mark your calendars. Within six months, you ought to start seeing improvements in the humanitarian crisis that plays out on our streets each day.
In her State of the Region address to the Portland City Club on Jan. 21, Metro President Lynn Peterson said visible progress is on the way — and very soon. She put a six-month marker on it, and for that, we thank her. Frustration over current conditions is off the charts, and now Portland-area residents have a timeline by which to judge the effectiveness of their extraordinary investments in shelters, low-income housing and homeless services.
During her City Club address, Peterson spoke of those investments: $2.4 billion over 10 years for services for the homeless and $652.8 million in bonds to build nearly 4,000 housing units. And that's only accounting for what Metro has asked — and received — of taxpayers. The city of Portland and Multnomah County are spending hundreds of millions of dollars on top of that, along with state and federal flow-through funds.
All of this money is supposed to make a difference, but Portland homeless camps have exploded in size and number during the pandemic. As a result, Portland's livability has declined and its reputation has been wounded. Local officials and agencies have moved too slowly in addressing these matters. This week, with frigid temperatures and a biting east wind, people continue to live in tents along freeways, on downtown sidewalks and under bridges.
It's not for lack of public support that homelessness remains a vexing local problem. Community leaders have been clear about what they expect from Portland-area residents: compassion, patience and generosity with their tax dollars. Portlanders have answered all these expectations in the affirmative. They've gone above and beyond, and the private sector also has stepped up, converting the former Wapato jail into the Bybee Lakes Hope Center.
Now it is time to ask what we expect of the people we are attempting to help. As more shelter beds, housing and services come online, is it acceptable to continue living on the street because you have too many belongings to move or don't want to submit to drug and alcohol treatment? How assertive should we be in saying it is no longer OK to pitch tents within a few feet of Interstate 205, endangering both the houseless and motorists?
Tough questions must come with a commitment to listen. Solutions need to be inclusive, and leaders must incorporate homeless voices in their decision-making process.
In the question-and-answer session following her speech, Peterson took a swipe at the People for Portland organization, saying the group's ads have increased cynicism, and that their major donors remain secretive. Whatever its shortcomings, the People for Portland group has provided a vehicle for residents to channel their frustrations. Peterson showed she also understands the discontent when she said, "Our most vulnerable people are unhoused, at risk, and our region is suffering. The situation is urgent, and you have a right to be upset."
Appropriately, she has now given us a timeline for measuring progress on this most critical of issues. Portlanders will be watching and looking forward to seeing the promised improvements to come — in the next six months.
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