Portland Homeless Crisis Sows Dissent in Tolerant City

Day Campers in front of Emerson School NPB ~ July 2015
Day Campers in front of Emerson School NPB ~ July 2015

Reprinted from ABC news Gillian Flaccus, AP — Sep 7, 2016 Link

There have always been homeless people in Portland, but last summer Michelle Cardinal noticed a change outside her office doors.

Almost overnight, it seemed, tents popped up in the park that runs like a green carpet past the offices of her national advertising business. She saw assaults, drug deals and prostitution. Every morning, she said, she cleaned human feces off the doorstep and picked up used needles.

“It started in June and by July it was full-blown. The park was mobbed,” she said. “We’ve got a problem here and the question is how we’re going to deal with it.”

The city is booming, and the homeless are more visible than ever before. Skyrocketing rents, cripplingly low vacancy rates and a severe shortage of affordable housing are forcing Portland to re-examine its live-and-let-live attitude in a place where residents have long been tolerant of everything but intolerance.

And in a city where the mayor says “unhoused” instead of homeless and where tent camps have names like Dignity Village and Right 2 Dream Too instead of Skid Row and The Jungle, residents are wondering if Portland needs to rethink its strategy as a permanent solution seems ever-more elusive.

“The city doesn’t have a coherent approach to … really enforcing any type of rules about where people can camp,” said Chris Trejbal, who lives near a homeless camp called Hazelnut Grove.

“It’s been a disaster. There’s no leadership.”

The issue peaked this year when Portland declared a homeless state of emergency and Mayor Charlie Hales made it legal to sleep on city streets.

At the same time, Portland welcomed 1,000 new residents a month and the average rent has increased about $100 a month. The metropolitan area needs 24,000 more affordable housing units; vacancy rates are some of the lowest in the nation.

“It’s white hot, people want to move here and live here, as well they should. It’s an amazing city . but our zoning and our planning process is really behind the curve in terms of providing flexible and affordable living arrangements,” said Mayor-Elect Ted Wheeler. “It has not caught up with the new reality.”

Part of that reality is the nearly 1,900 unsheltered people who camp from Portland’s downtown core to its rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods to the forested areas along the urban fringe. A one-night count last year found the overall number of homeless people hasn’t increased significantly, but the number of chronically homeless has risen steadily to make up about half of the total population.

Portland has earmarked $250 million for affordable housing and has a $250 million housing bond on the November ballot.

The city has also joined forces with Multnomah County to tackle the crisis head-on with $43 million in funding; leaders in a new coalition want to cut homelessness by half in three years.

Yet there is a potent belief that the city isn’t doing enough because homelessness suddenly seems everywhere.

There aren’t enough short-term beds while Portland works at long-term solutions. When one camp is shut down, another pops up.

After letting up to 500 homeless people live for months along a 21-mile bike trail in southeast Portland, the city cracked down and last week uprooted a network of tents, some of them stuffed with armchairs and couches.

Neighbor LaDawna Booze had called police repeatedly to report drug use, theft and excessive noise there.

“I haven’t been out in my own yard in a few years. I feel like I’m watched everywhere,” she said. “It’s changed my life.”

Booze isn’t alone. The issue was a constant in this spring’s mayoral campaign and it dominates the local news. Since June, 5,000 people have called a hotline to complain about homeless camps, according to The Oregonian/OregonLive.

Hales, who dropped out of the race for re-election, has struggled to find a common ground between upset business leaders and homeowners and homeless advocates, who feel the city is shuttling the homeless around with no plan.

He was sued after announcing his “safe sleep” policy, but the city was sued again last month after commissioners voted to proceed with plans to turn a vacant industrial warehouse into a 400-bed homeless shelter.

Suggestions to house the unsheltered in a mothballed jail have been slammed for symbolically criminalizing homelessness but a state land use board killed a plan last week to move a city-sanctioned tent village to industrial land.

“You’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t so you’d better ‘do,’ because no good deed goes unpunished when it comes to homelessness,” said Hales, who ended the ‘safe sleep’ policy after six months.

Those on the streets are craving answer as the cold and rain of a Portland winter approach.

Deitra Schmer moved into an RV when the city swept the Springwater Corridor. She has nowhere else to go and says she couldn’t keep her job as a certified nursing assistant because she had no stability.

“You can’t move every 10 days or every three days and keep your job. It just doesn’t work,” she said. “Not to have to worry about where I’m going to lay my head — that’s my biggest issue.”

SF News Media Team Up to Fight Homelessness

Embarrassing politicians into action seems like a great idea to us! Last summer it took our “park porn” photos to get the Mayor Hales and city council to even notice the situation in the North Park Blocks. Now it seems that SF media is making a coordinated effort “to  create a ‘wave’ of coverage that will force politicians to come up with solutions”

16sanfrancisco-web01-master768A Plan to Flood San Francisco With News on Homelessness
Reprinted from NY Times May 15, 2015

As the editor in chief of The San Francisco Chronicle, Audrey Cooper has overseen countless stories on homelessness. But the issue became personal three years ago when she was pushing her 6-month-old child in a stroller through the city’s business district. A homeless couple in a tent on the sidewalk were having sex, tent flaps open, as their pit bull stood guard.

Ms. Cooper expressed her outrage loudly and in colorful language.

“I probably shouldn’t have started yelling at them,” she said in an interview in her fishbowl office in the heart of the Chronicle’s newsroom. “They let their dog loose.”

San Francisco residents have over decades become inured to encounters with the city’s homeless population, the clumps of humanity sleeping on sidewalks under coats and makeshift blankets, or drug addicts shooting up in full view of pedestrians. There are also the tension-filled but common scenes of mentally ill men and women stumbling down streets, arguing with imaginary enemies or harassing passers-by.

One particularly vocal group of residents, San Francisco’s journalists, say they feel a sense of urgency in addressing the problem. They are banding together in an exasperated, but as yet vaguely defined, attempt to spur the city into action.

Next month, media organizations in the Bay Area are planning to put aside their rivalries and competitive instincts for a day of coordinated coverage on the homeless crisis in the city. The Chronicle, which is leading the effort, is dispensing with traditional news article formats and will put forward possible solutions to the seemingly intractable plight of around 6,000 people without shelter.

Representatives from Bay Area television and radio stations, The Chronicle, The San Francisco Examiner, Mother Jones and online publications, among others, met last month to figure out a plan to share resources and content. They agreed to publish their reports on homelessness on June 29.

The premise of the effort is to create a “wave” of coverage that will force politicians to come up with solutions, Ms. Cooper said.

“You will not be able to log onto Facebook, turn on the radio, watch TV, read a newspaper, log onto Twitter without seeing a story about the causes and solutions to homelessness,” she said.


Portland Tribune: Police Passive with Homeless Population

Police passive with homeless population
Reposted from:
Police Passive with Homeless Population
Portland Tribune October 2015

Written by Peter Korn

Hayley Purdy can’t figure out why police officers bike, drive and walk by the social chaos she lives with on the North Park Blocks and do virtually nothing.

Throughout the summer Purdy and her neighbors documented the increasing disorder in their part of downtown. They watched the proliferation of illegal campsites and the garbage piling up and they’ve had a few angry confrontations with squatters over broad daylight drug dealing.

Daryl Turner says he knows why. The Portland Police union chief says street officers have been walking by situations involving illegal homeless camping and sidewalk obstruction when in years past they would have taken action. And that’s because city officials refuse to provide police with clear direction and support in dealing with the growing number of homeless people who violate city ordinances, according to Turner.

“We have never, ever, by any leadership, been given clear direction on how to deal with the homeless population on sidewalks and in parks,” Turner says. “Without clear direction, cops don’t know what the city wants.” Continue reading “Portland Tribune: Police Passive with Homeless Population”

Old Town Chinatown Advocates Speak Out

Two brief public comments – Portland City Council – Oct 7, 2015
Click images to play video segments. 

Click image to play video
Click image to play 4  minute video

Charles Mattouk – Owner of Charlie’s Deli 22NW 4th St.

… Because of sidewalk campers, there’s no access or egress to parking spots or bicycle spots. Personal property completely fills the sidewalks and forces people to walk in the streets. With the NW 4th and Burnside intersection opening up, it almost seems like an intersection to nowhere.

I’d love to propose no loitering areas where active residential and business exist – at least during business hours. Most of the people out there need help and attention.

Helen Ying
Click image to play 3 minute video

Helen Ying –  Chair of Old Town Chinatown Community Association

… We must address the lawless behavior – using drugs in public, sleeping on sidewalks, setting up tents, even an attack on OTCT board member

I ask you to be proactive – systematic and systemic to improve our streets. I see this government working in silos.

KGW Feature: Cleaning Up the North Park Blocks

PORTLAND, Ore. — People who live and work near Portland’s North Park Blocks, north of Burnside Street, are relieved that a massive homeless problem has dwindled. Link to KGW story

Over the summer, men and women took over the park and created multiple problems.

Cardinal KGWMichelle Cardinal watched it develop from her window at work. Cardinal is the co-founder of R2C, a marketing business that sits across from one of the park blocks.

She’s not the sort of person who lets problems get the best of her.

When the issue of homelessness came to her door step, she knew it was time for action.

She took security pictures of people sleeping across the entrance of her company. She gathered up other pictures and stories of people being threatened and chased.

Some of the pictures show men and women putting needles in their arms. Two pictures show different sets of people having sex in public.

“We care deeply, not only about the homeless community,” said Cardinal. She also worries about the underlying causes of homelessness.

And she knew she had to speak out when others would not.

“There are a lot of people in this city afraid to speak about this issue. They don’t want to be labeled as heartless or anti-homeless and I would agree with that. And now, once we’ve started this dialogue, now more and more people are having this conversation,” she said.