On June 16th, members from an array of Neighborhood Associations met to discuss the growing homelessness epidemic facing the citizens of Portland. There were a number of residents that spoke about their experiences, both good and bad, as well as a presentation from the city detailing some of actions that the city has taken in regards to homelessness. At the end of the meeting there had been a lot of discussion and opinions shared, but no distinct path forward emerged.
The first speaker to share their perspective was Helen Ying from the Old Town Community Association. She shared some historical perspectives from Old Town, and stated the community’s desires to revitalize the district. In regards to the topic of homelessness she discussed the experience of R2D2 (Right 2 Dream 2) and how they were able to successfully partner with the city to find a better space for the camp to move to.
They were looking to continue this approach and had set up a task force with the city, but as they were about to present their action plan back in March COVID struck and has put a damper on those activities. With the idea of a reopening looming they’re currently struggling to come up with a plan to start up business activities when the sidewalks are inundated with tents and other sidewalk camping.
Another resident, Jacob Williams, from the University Park Neighborhood Association, which has also been facing a consistently growing homeless population. They’ve been struggling with people using public and railroad owned property for camping and they estimate that the number of homeless is exceeding 225 people in their neighborhood alone. They feel it’s a growing health concern with the state of the current pandemic, as well as a potentially growing criminal problem with a noted increase in drug activity.
After this Denis Theriault, from the City of Portland, gave a presentation about the city’s response to the growing homelessness problem. This presentation highlighted that the reported number of people living unhoused has continued to rise even though the city has taken efforts to build and partner with shelters in more accessible locations.
At this point there was a lot of questions put to the City’s representatives asking when and what steps they will be taking next, but no real answers were put forth other than they will continue to work on addressing the problem. As the meeting wound down a number of people shared opinions and engaged in heated debate, but no census was met and the group decided to adjourn and look to have a subsequent meeting sometime in the next couple weeks.