Old Town organizations plead for City Hall help
Four organizations based in Portland's Old Town Chinatown sent a letter to city and Multnomah County officials Wednesday, expressing their concerns about the "rapidly deteriorating conditions" in their neighborhood.
The Oct. 6 letter was sent from Lan Su Chinese Garden, the Japanese Museum of Oregon, the Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education and the Portland Chinatown Museum. It told local leaders it's past time for them to take action to address vandalism, violence and mental instability in the area.
They said these issues have worsened in Old Town over the past three or four weeks.
The four organizations said they have each had personal conversations with city and county leaders and they've shared accounts of flagrant drug dealing, fires, vandalism, verbal and physical threats, and actual assaults.
The letter states that on a single day in September, three staff members at the Lan Su Chinese Garden experienced a combination of physical and verbal assaults. This, along with other events, prompted the garden to hire additional security and lock the front gate.
The Lan Su Chinese Garden said it feels it cannot assure the health and safety of its 2,000 visitors each week under current conditions.
The four organizations asked Mayor Ted Wheeler, city commissioners Jo Ann Hardesty, Mingus Mapps, Carmen Rubio, Dan Ryan, Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury, and county commissioners Jessica Vega Pederson, Susheela Jayapal, Sharon Meieran, and Lori Stegmann to meet with them no later than Oct. 22. They hope to discuss plans leaders have to support Old Town. They want to hear the city's plans for adding police and combating rising crime.
They also said they need the county to step up and deploy mental health and other services to the neighborhood.
"As organizations dedicated to giving voice to those who have suffered discrimination and indignity, it is particularly difficult to recognize and respond to the crisis of humanity unfolding around us daily," the letter states.
The four organizations represented in the letter said they face costly and consequential choices if the situation does not improve and said, "Right now, our hearts are broken."
The groups hope the neighborhood will continue to be a place of rich history, diversity and cultural and civil rights struggles within the city, state and region.
KOIN 6 News reached out to Mayor Wheeler, Chair Kafoury and all city and county commissioners for comment.
Commissioner Mapps is expected to meet with the organizations to discuss shared concerns on Thursday afternoon. This is his statement:
"I hear and understand the frustration expressed in the letter from organizations in Old Town. It is one of the primary reasons I voted to extend the Clean and Safe contract, with its new mental and behavioral health resources. I hope that with the expansion of Portland Street Response, we will see added services to the area. I will work with and support the Portland Police Bureau in any effort to intervene on criminal or unlawful behavior."
Commissioner Rubio shared this statement:
"I want to acknowledge the deep concerns I've heard when talking with some of these organizations and community leaders, and I look forward to continuing the conversations with the additional organizations. These issues are top-of-mind every day for me: the rising gun violence, community safety, health during this pandemic, and ensuring our vulnerable communities are getting the assistance they need. Significant planning and engagement is happening as we speak to take necessary steps forward on these issues in the coming weeks, and I am appreciative to all community members for making their concerns very clear."
Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty's statement:
"I hear and understand the frustrations of these cultural organizations and I know they are not alone â€“ people are suffering throughout Portland right now. The ongoing pandemic is unprecedented and has been compounded by a series of crisis such as heat waves, wildfires, economic devastation, and a racial justice reckoning. This has been very de-stabilizing for many in our community and exposed the lack of a social safety net that exists in this country. We absolutely need to provide more humane, safe places for people currently living on our streets to exist and we need significantly more mental health resources from all levels of government. I can assure you that I am working hard every day to provide community safety for all Portlanders. If my Portland Street Response budget proposal passes later this month, Portland Street Response will expand citywide this Spring and that will allow PSR to be dispatched to appropriate 911 calls in Old Town. We have a police bureau with over 100 vacancies, and I'm focused on reforming the bureau so it has a culture that can make them an attractive employer to a diverse set of Portlanders, because right now they are having difficulty hiring anyone. We will have an opportunity in the Fall Budget Monitoring Process (Fall BMP) later this month to make additional investments that can help Portland recover from the many crisis we are working ourselves out of to create a more equitable and resilient Portland for all."
KOIN 6 News is a news partner of the Portland Tribune.
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