The suffering on our streets is unacceptable, inexcusable, and we must act with far more urgency to address this crisis. I am a renter in East Portland and every day when I leave my apartment, I see large encampments. I see heartbreaking poverty. I also see and hear the frustrations of those who pay a lot in taxes, and hear a lot of promises from politicians, but are still seeing tents on their sidewalks all over the city.
It is with this sense of urgency that I am disappointed these proposals from Mayor Wheeler and Housing / Joint Office of Homeless Services Commissioner Ryan lack details, funding, regional partnerships, and timelines that meet the moment.
Last week, hundreds of Portlanders testified about the 5 proposals presented to council. Almost all who testified were supportive of measures to rapidly house and shelter those currently living on the street. Aside from paid lobbyists for big business and realtor interests that were given priority to testify over the general public, the majority of community members spoke out against criminalizing people sleeping outside before any additional shelter or housing is made available.
If we collaborate as a council on this, we have an opportunity to inspire and bring people together around ambitious action, instead of dividing Portland.
With all this in mind, I plan to introduce the following amendments this Thursday:
Resolution 899 – "Establish key actions to increase affordable housing construction”
This is the resolution I am most excited by, because it gets at what we all know is the real solution to our houseless crisis: housing. I have long advocated for land banking up to 400 publicly owned sites throughout Portland. We should accelerate this action.
I also appreciate the direction to aggressively pursue vacant or underutilized privately owned properties that could be converted into housing or shelter. However, one tool City Hall has that is not mentioned in the resolution is the power of eminent domain. Too many property owners have sat on derelict buildings that are rotting away as vacant, graffiti covered eye sores in our City. We are in an emergency and need to act like it. If property owners aren’t going to utilize these buildings for the community’s benefit, then we should be looking at what we can do as a City.
I’m bringing forward an amendment directing our City Attorney to report back to council how we can utilize our power of eminent domain to rapidly house Portlanders during this housing emergency.
- Amendment 1: “BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED the City Attorney shall create an analysis and report back to Council no later than February 28 2023 on how the City can best utilize its power of eminent domain to rapidly house Portlanders during this housing emergency.”
Resolution 900 “Assess options to increase coordination and enhance unhoused access to paid non-standard work”
The aspiration of hiring more people experiencing houselessness is something we can all agree on. However, I am concerned this will not be as easy as this proposal sets its aims, and there are few details offered.
The good news is there are many organizations in our community that already have expertise in employing people currently experiencing houselessness. Therefore, I am introducing an amendment to consult local experts on scaling up employment options for unhoused communities to help assist in achieving our shared goal. We can work together as a Council to set that table, but I envision organizations like Groundscore, Street Roots, Sisters of the Road, and many more being invited to this conversation.
- Amendment 2: “[After Portland Labor Unions partnering Resolved Statement] BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, That the City will convene a group of community experts on employment options for unhoused communities to shape the assistance needed for the City to create a new employment platform; and”
Resolution 901 – “Connect mental health and substance abuse recovery services to unhoused individuals”
Resolution 901 is the most controversial and divisive proposal on the table. As currently written, this proposal would not break ground on a single new shelter option until almost 2 years after millions of dollars of funding is secured from an unknown source. Yet the resolution criminalizes people sleeping outside before we provide the variety of shelter and housing options needed to solve our crisis and before a diversion program is created.
Let me be clear that we need to see accountability and prosecution of criminal acts like drug dealing, theft, and chop shops. Portland Police Bureau is currently operating with their largest budget ever, and I share the frustration many Portlanders are feeling that their massive budget is not translating into more prosecution of obvious criminal behavior.
However, criminalizing the act of sleeping outside is criminalizing poverty. This is a cruel concept, it is very expensive, and it will make the problem worse by creating additional barriers for those already suffering on our streets. If we go down this path, taxpayers will be on the hook for over $300 a night per individual in Multnomah County prison – far more expensive than the per individual cost of providing housing or shelter. We should not send people to jail because they live in extreme poverty or may be suffering from a mental or behavioral health issue in a state that ranks at the bottom of the country in providing those needed services.
Therefore, I will be introducing amendments with the following goals:
- Speed up creation of serviced designated camping areas from current proposal of beginning construction 18 months after securing funding to completing construction of the first designated camp area within 6 months of securing funding.
- Limit the size of serviced camping areas so they can be safely managed to the benefit of unhoused residents and surrounding neighborhoods.
- Ensure new designated camping areas are ADA compliant. Accessibility concerns on our sidewalks are real and the City is seeking to resolve a related lawsuit. It is also true that over 60% of people living in the street are disabled themselves. As City leaders we should not be pitting the houseless and housed disabled communities against each other.
- Seek to ensure designated camping sites are distributed across the city and not placed in just one neighborhood.
- Amendment 3: “WHEREAS, over 60% of the houseless population in Portland have self-identified disabilities we must ensure that sanctioned large scale campsites have sufficient facilities to address these varied needs.”
- Amendment 4: [In Initial Now, Therefore] change “a citywide ban on self-sited unsanctioned encampments” to “develop a plan to limit self-sited unsanctioned encampments in consultation with experienced community partners once sufficient capacity exists to assist the City’s houseless population and meet the City’s legal requirements…”
- Amendment 5: “In 1(I) delete “with the possibility of a maximum of 500 people per campus divided intro quadrants,”
- In 1(I)(a) delete “on each campus”
- Add 1(I)(b) After the establishment of initial camps the City may consider creating a campus model where multiple camps are approved on a single large city controlled lot.
- In the Budget Office Financial Impact Analysis under Designated Camping Sites delete references to 500 person camp analysis.”
- Amendment 6: “Change references to establishing camps within 18 months of securing funding to opening the first camp 6 months after securing funding.”
- Amendment 7: “1(B) after “three designated camping sites” add “that must be diversely spread across the City...”
Resolution 902 - “Set City budget priorities to implement affordable housing, connect homeless individuals with sanitary, mental health and substance abuse recovery services and request assistance from County, Metro, State, and Federal partners”
As far as we understand, not a single dollar has been allocated to fund any of the proposals coming to council. However, we don’t really know, because Resolution 902 still has not been provided to Council, nor has it been publicly posted on the City Council Agenda.
Therefore, the proposed amendments below are tentative since we haven’t seen the language of this resolution we are expected to vote on this Thursday. The goal here is to get all our jurisdictional partners in the room together instead of communicating through press releases, and to propose a funding mechanism that could match the scale of our crisis.
- Amendment 8: “WHEREAS, the City shall convene a planning coordination summit between local, county, metro, state, and federal officials to explore how to best utilize available funding and land.”
- Amendment 9: “WHEREAS, the City calls upon the State to consider allocating up to $1 billion of kicker funding towards rent assistance and affordable housing production during next year’s Legislative Session.”
I wish we had more time to do community outreach and build consensus on what rapidly moving people from our streets to stability really looks like. I don’t understand why we are rushing through a multi-year plan in just two weeks.
That said, it’s clear the status quo is untenable. Let’s bring Portland together, add details and urgency to these proposals, consult with those closest to the issue, and get to work. Portlanders aren’t interested in political theater, they are interested in results.