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UPDATE: The Metro Council has scheduled a work session on the potential May primary election measure for Tuesday, Feb. 4

PMG PHOTO: ZANE SPARLING - Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler speaks with attendees in the overflow room at a homelessness community forum on Saturday, Feb. 1. Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler says a homeless services funding measure is fait accompli — and he wants you to vote for it.

"It will be on the ballot in May, and I will be a leading proponent of that effort," Wheeler said in an interview on Saturday, Feb. 1.

The Metro Council will hold a work session on the potential May primary election measure on Tuesday, Feb. 4. A council vote is tentatively scheduled for Thursday, Feb. 20.

PMG PHOTO: ZANE SPARLING - Mayor Ted Wheeler hosted a community conversation on homelessness on Saturday, Feb. 1 at Portland Community College's Southeast 82nd Avenue campus. As recently as December, political watchers seemed skeptical of the timing of the proposal, which has the strong backing of the HereTogether coalition but could crowd out following money measures, like the $3 billion transportation bond Metro plans for later in 2020.

If indeed the Metro Council sends the homelessness tax to the ballot, voters in Multnomah, Clackamas and Washington counties could raise a substantial sum for the chronically homeless, but where the money would come from hasn't been fully detailed in public yet.

Advocates had hoped to raise as much as $300 million, though one possible fundraising mechanism, a 1% income tax on high-earners, would likely generate no more than $125 million.

Wheeler said the discussions about who will serve as caretaker of the taxpayer money, as well as HereTogether's role, are still ongoing. But he's convinced the money will help create permanent supportive housing with treatment for addiction and mental health issues.

"We know we can build the housing, that's not the problem," Wheeler added. "The problem is do we have the resources and the capacity to be able to provide the services to make that housing successful."

The mayor — who has said repeatedly that homelessness is his No. 1 priority — embarked on the first in another series of community forums on that topic on Saturday.

The event at Portland Community College's Southeast 82nd Avenue campus wasn't too different from the homelessness forums he held last year, or the year before that, with dizzying lists of statistics and upwardly trending lines.

• For instance, while federal counts show 4,000 unhoused here, the city-county Joint Office of Homeless Services reports serving 37,000 in the latest fiscal year.

• Central City Concern removed 2.3 million pounds of trash from camps in 2019, a 115% increase from 2018.

• More than 72,00 needles were removed by clean-up crews in 2019, compared with 29,000 in 2018

Forum attendee Nancy Merchant said people defecate and inject drugs in the alley by her home off Powell Boulevard.

"My kids have seen things that no kids should see growing up," she said. "The camps, even when they get cleaned up, just move one block down." PMG PHOTO: ZANE SPARLING - Sue, a Portland resident for the last six decades, brought photos of Portland area camps to a community forum on homelessness.

Make your voice heard:

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler will host three more community conversations on homelessness in North, Northeast and Southwest Portland. Here's what is planned:

• A forum on Thursday, Feb. 13 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. in the Beaumont Middle School cafeteria, 4043 N.E. Fremont St.

• A forum on Tuesday, March 3 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the University of Portland Bauccio Commons, 5000 N. Willamette Blvd.

• A forum on Saturday, March 7 from 9:00 a.m. to noon at the Multnomah Arts Center gymnasium, 7688 S.W. Capitol Hwy.

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