My view: In face of inaction, headwinds mean you're on right path
When I took office in the Fall of 2020, voters resoundingly called for one thing: action. After decades of the status quo approach, I set out to deliver what Portlanders from across the political spectrum support: safe outdoor spaces where houseless neighbors have dignity, stability and an on-ramp to housing. That's why we are building Safe Rest Villages. Safe Rest Villages (SRVs) will be outdoor shelters — not tents — that provide a place for Portlanders to sleep, basic and necessary hygiene, and access to case management and behavioral health services.
In six months, my team has reviewed over 100 sites, received and responded to thousands of emails, created a website, met with community groups, Neighborhood Associations, Neighborhood Coalitions and additional stakeholders, and we've decided on six future village locations.
When you disrupt the status quo, you face headwinds at every turn.
Months after launching the SRV project with American Rescue Plan dollars, the federal government released guidance that boiled down to miles of red tape.
We've faced internal and external headwinds — city, county, and inter-jurisdictional bureaucracy — and despite these challenges we are moving forward. Simultaneously — with dialogue — we are building bridges and authentic partnerships with neighborhood associations who ultimately support this much needed action, including the Multnomah Neighborhood Association and the Downtown Neighborhood Association.
Despite the headwinds, we're using every tool at our disposal to move forward.
Thursday, Feb. 24, I hosted a press conference to announce all six Safe Rest Village sites. Mayor Wheeler — through an Emergency Declaration — granted me emergency powers to "consolidate and coordinate the implementation of Safe Rest Villages and alternative shelters." Recognizing the urgent humanitarian crisis on our streets, the vocal cry for action to support unhoused Portlanders, and to give the community safe access to their sidewalks, parks and other public spaces, we are accelerating the process of establishing SRVs throughout Portland.
SRVs are a necessary intervention — they're not a silver bullet. Complex problems require complex solutions. The houseless community is not a monolith. We need to deploy a wide array of services to address this crisis. While SRVs are one approach, I'm under no illusions that they are the only one.
One unmet and unnamed need in our community is the rapidly growing intersection of houselessness and the use of new P2P meth.
National Public Radio recently reported that Oregon has the highest meth and opioid addiction rates in the country and ranks dead last in treatment services. That data is from 2020. In the same year, voters passed Measure 110, which decriminalized drugs in Oregon. Since then, we've seen virtually no implementation of state-funded diversion programs or treatment resources as promised. That means an entire year of decriminalization with no alternatives to fill the gap.
During this year-long vacuum, the new, catastrophic meth that is flooding streets across the country has wreaked havoc on Portland. Currently, our local government is left with little to no tools to address the behavioral health crisis and rampant drug use on our streets. Vulnerable communities — housed and unhoused — pay the price for this failure.
The city is generally responsible for infrastructure and the county deploys human services. I'm doing what I can on the city's side. I'm building villages, I voted to expand Portland Street Response, I worked with the county to secure more behavioral health funding in the Supportive Housing Services budget, and to invest $2.5 million to hire more County Behavioral Health workers.
We need to face the reality of the tragedy on our streets. We need courage and action.
Today, the state must act with unprecedented urgency to expand existing programs and build new programs that fill the Measure 110 gap. We need a firm commitment from our next governor to prioritize this humanitarian crisis. Every candidate for governor owes it to Oregon to produce a concrete platform to ensure Salem takes bold steps to be part of the solution.
Silence is no longer an option.
Fear of failure has kept the status quo from enacting meaningful change. Our partners from all sectors in government — non-profit and private — must come together with purpose. We need to be data-driven, check our egos at the door and trust in one another.
My hometown and state can do this.
I have hope we can work together with creativity, courage, urgency and, yes, love.
Dan Ryan is a Portland City Council member and commissioner of the Portland Housing Bureau.
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