By Don MacGillivray
The summer has begun and folks are feeling good and getting out and about, including Portland’s homeless citizens.
Arterial streets all over the Eastside have been bothered by willful homeless people hanging out and occasionally displaying various anti-social behaviors. Clearly there needs to more of a security presence, but there is little that can be done except to report the situation to the proper authorities.
The ultimate solution may be a paid patrol like the Clean and Safe program being employed downtown.
Portland has had its issues with local homelessness for many years, but these have stayed in the central commercial and industrial areas due the proximity of services and housing available that serve the populations’s needs.
Unfortunately the problem has grown and even with significant successful efforts to reduce homelessness and help homeless people, Portland must do better.
Over the last year or so there have been problems with homeless camping along the twenty-one mile Springwater Trail. Several violent incidents brought the situation to the attention of law enforcement, the media, and the surrounding neighborhoods. Now much of the trail is considered dangerous for general public use.
The Springwater Trail parallels Johnson Creek from Sellwood to Gresham and on to Boring and is intended to be a major section of Portland’s Forty Mile Loop trail first suggested by the Olmstead brothers, (landscape architects of the early twentieth century) when they were in Portland planning the expansion of Portland’s park system.
There are sections yet to be built to connect and complete the trail, however with the presence of multitudes of homeless people, local governments must ensure that these trails are safe for the public and that our natural areas are not destroyed by illegal camping.
It has been estimated that there have been over 400 campers in recent months along the Springwater Corridor. This has caused much consternation to the surrounding communities.
Without toilets available, the areas soon become contaminated as a major health hazard. There is no water available for washing and bathing and the greatest mess and hazard is the garbage that accumulates in and around the trail from campers.
Recently, during a camp clean-up, many tons of garbage were removed. 3.5 tons of garbage are removed annually from Johnson Creek area.
To address this situation, a multi-jurisdicational task force is working to find ways to reverse these trends once and for all. Fifty members including many that have a responsibility to respond to the situation are working to find and implement solutions.
There are representatives from Portland, Gresham, Milwaukie, Multnomah County, Clackamas County, the Oregon Legislature and several community groups.
There is agreement that the Springwater Corridor and other natural areas must be off-limits to homeless campers, but where the campers can go and how to restrict camping remains an open question.
This month, the task force will reach conclusions and report back to the community.
Simultaneously the City of Gresham has formed a committee to address the growing issue of homelessness in their city.
They will assess problems and identify potential solutions and best practices. Their work will culminate in a final report in October.
Fragmented government and social services must cooperate effectively together. Law enforcement will be part of the solution, but knowing who homeless campers are and what can be done to help them is a fundamental part of achieving successful solutions.
A big solution was recently proposed: Homer Williams, one of Portland’s largest developers, suggested that Portland build a large camp that can provide for a thousand people’s needs while working to get folk back on their feet.
He visited a similar facility in San Antonio, Texas that has been operating successfully. The suggested location for this facility is the seventeen acres of city owned riverfront property in NW Portland known as Pier One.
Vancouver, Washington residents will vote in November on a $6 million affordable housing property tax levy. It will continue for seven years due to their recently declared housing crisis. They have recently declared housing crisis because of the 2% rental vacancy rate and 10% annual rent increase necessitating the construction of more low-income housing.
Portland is proposing a levy to build affordable housing and city council will decide at the end of June if it will be placed on the November election ballot.
As of 2014, Portland lacked about 20,000 housing units for Portland families that earn less than 30 percent of the median income ($22,000 for a family of four).
Portland voters will be asked to approve the November tax levy to fund the construction of 1,000 affordable housing units for $250 million of new or remodeled apartments. The measure is promoted by the Welcome Home Coalition of over 140 social service related organizations. They are doing research and the outreach to develop community support for the measure. Solving homelessness and the housing crisis is now at the top of everyone’s priority list here.
The Office of Neighborhood Involvement is expected to receive funding to provide public outreach about the actions government is taking to reduce and solve homelessness.
The solutions actively being worked on are not well-known to the public. By meeting people in constructive dialog contributions on how the public can help will be collected and processed thereby increasing the capacity for action.
By building trust and hope, fears about homelessness may be dispelled with a better understanding of how this issue will be addressed.