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Portland Downtown, Old Town neighborhood associations meet at First Unitarian, with opening remarks by Ted Wheeler.

PMG PHOTO: ZANE SPARLING - Members of the Old Town and Portland Downtown neighborhood associations met for a forum on homelessness on Saturday, Nov. 23.As overnight temperatures dropped into the 30s — and Portlanders' concern over homelessness never seemed higher — neighbors from across the central city gathered to understand the issue and work to solve the equation.

Organizers with Portland Downtown Neighborhood Association asked participants to brainstorm "I, We, and They" solutions. Translation? It will take personal sacrifice and community building to end homelessness — not just governmental action.

"Our goal is to improve the quality of life in our downtown and to improve the lives of our homeless neighbors," said David Dickson, co-chair of the association's homelessness team. "Those two things don't have to be incompatible."

But it is a big task. In the last fiscal year, more than 2,820 clean-ups swept through downtown, Old Town, Goose Hollow and the Pearl District, according to data distributed at the meeting from the One Point of Contact campsite reporting system.

PMG PHOTO: ZANE SPARLING - Participants at a forum on homelessness in downtown Portland were asked to think up solutions. The cost was more than $2.1 million, and workers additionally removed 457,000 needles. In the current fiscal year, which began Oct. 1, there have been 1,017 reported clean-ups.

Yet for many at the community forum, held Saturday, Nov. 23, at First Unitarian church, the solution is obvious: more housing.

PMG PHOTO: ZANE SPARLING - Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler spoke with reporters after delivering opening remarks at First Unitarian church on Nov. 23. "A lack of affordable housing is an issue that we didn't have 20 years ago," said Mary Sipe, who served on the Portland Downtown and Old Town Community Association's joint task force on homelessness.

"I'm really shocked that, as a retired university professor with a decent retirement income, that I can't afford market rate rents in the city of Portland," added Aisha Musa, chair of the Old Town association's safety and livability committee.

Sipe has lived in the Pearl District for 19 years, first as a homeowner, and then after the Great Recession as a renter. The issue has touched her family personally: Her brother with schizophrenia and her 80-year-old mother disappeared and lived an unsheltered life for years.

"I think statistically nobody can deny that there are more people sleeping on the streets than there used to be," Sipe said.

Those in attendance at the meeting included Multnomah County Commissioner Sharon Meieran and county Deputy Health Officer Dr. Jennifer Vines, as well as representatives from Central City Concern, Transition Projects, Harbor of Hope, Street Roots, Portland Police Bureau and panelists who have experienced homelessness.

In an opening address, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler highlighted the city's status as the eighth wealthiest in the nation on a per capita basis. But the prosperity isn't spread equally.

PMG PHOTO: ZANE SPARLING - Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler spoke on the homelessness crisis in downtown Portland on Saturday, Nov. 23. "There's some really big problems here, and people are suffering as a result of those problems," Wheeler told reporters after his speech. "We need to take that anger, that frustration and direct it toward actual strategies that are going to solve the problem."

Wheeler touted as an example the street hygiene pilot, which deploys six portable toilets with attendants in downtown, inner southeast and east Portland.

More recently, City Hall approved Portland Street Response, a new program within the Fire & Rescue bureau that's intended to send first responders and crisis workers to homeless-related calls, rather than a police officer. And PPB announced recently it has finished training 10 public safety support specialists, with two more on the way, who are unarmed but can take official reports in non-emergency situations where there's no suspect information, evidence or a crime scene.

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