Elected Officials should seize available shelter solutions

February 17, 2022

It’s tragic that it’s taken official reports of people dying on our streets to finally get local and state elected officials to realize the homeless status quo in our city and region is indefensible.

We are in the midst of a humanitarian crisis. As such, the response from elected officials at all levels of government – city, county, Metro, and state – must be big enough, bold enough and fast enough to save lives, restore hope and make a visible difference in our neighborhood.

There is now considerable debate about how to best end dangerous camping in public places by providing enough safe, sanitary emergency shelters for everyone who needs it. It’s about time. For months, we’ve been advocating to finally put an end to unsafe, unserved, uncontrolled street camping. Since December, more than 117,000 email messages have been delivered by Portlanders to elected officials urging stronger action on shelters, camping and housing. A recent poll of Portland-area voters indicates 83% support for requiring people currently living outside to sleep in shelters or in designated camping locations.

Rather than focus on impractical or improbable ideas, we urge elected officials to start with the solutions already readily available to them. Local officials should use properties they already control, keep promises they’ve already made and use resources already at their disposal. Taken together, these solutions will help thousands of people get the shelter and life-saving services they need and begin to eliminate dangerous, unsanctioned camping across the city.

POST OFFICE SHELTER AND SERVICES: Immediately build promised safe rest villages at the vacant post office site in downtown Portland. Work with nearby Old Town businesses and residents to implement a no-camping zone in the surrounding area. The city owns this empty 14-acre campus of buildings and parking lots. It is within the power of Mayor Ted Wheeler and the Portland City Council to make this happen.

EXPO CENTER SHELTER AND SERVICES: Immediately use the massive Expo Center buildings and parking lots in North Portland to provide shelter and services. Create promised safe rest villages and support and locations for people living in RVs and motorhomes. The Metro regional government owns this property. It is within the power of Metro President Lynn Peterson and the Metro Council to make this happen.

KEEP PROMISES OF 400 MORE SHELTER BEDS: Last Fall, with great fanfare, County Chair Deborah Kafoury announced a $40 million package of new initiatives to urgently address the homeless crisis. Specifically, she promised 400 additional shelter beds along with more outreach workers. Where are they? It is within the power of Commissioner Kafoury and Multnomah County commissioners to keep this promise and deliver these emergency beds.

EMERGENCY STATE FUNDING: The state legislature recently learned it had more than $700 million in additional dollars available to them. While the legislature is in session this month, we urge Governor Brown and every legislator who represents the city of Portland to unite behind a plan to provide emergency funding and citing authority to support these ideas and others. It is within the power of Governor Brown and state lawmakers from Portland to make this happen.

These are not permanent housing solutions. But they are a vital first step to providing people struggling to survive on the streets with the safety and stability they need.

Nothing will change without stronger leadership. We desperately need our elected leaders at all levels of government to begin working TOGETHER to solve these problems. Finger-pointing and blame-shifting won’t save a single life or rescue a single neighborhood. It starts at the top. We urge the Governor, the Mayor, the County Chair, and the Metro President to immediately begin meeting and taking action on these ideas and others to address this growing humanitarian crisis.