By Don MacGillivray
For developers and landlords it is the best of times. For low income renters and the homeless it is the worst of times. In spite of 30 years of work, the problems of the homeless are as prevalent as ever, even with more resources and many positive improvements. There are just too many issues that don’t have answers.
The homeless problems in Laurelhurst have gotten increasingly worse in the past few years. Neighbors are upset and the neighborhood association is calling for action. Urination, defecation, needles, sleeping on the sidewalks, garbage and bad behavior has made neighbors afraid for their children and concerned about everyone’s safety.
This summer has also been difficult for the Hawthorne District. Businesses and neighbors have seen an increase in crime, trash, bad behavior, and vagrancy due to an increase in the homeless population.
Mayor Wheeler’s response has been much like Mayor Hale’s – we will work with you. The city has committed additional resources to the issue, but the problems are never solved, they just move elsewhere.
Montavilla has had its trials and tribulations with the homeless population too. The neighborhood association asked the city to stop the sweeps of the homeless people there, but there are loud and frequent objections from many of the residents of Montavilla.
The mayor’s office appreciated the neighborhood support, but the city needs to respond appropriately at locations where there are a large number of complaints from businesses and residents.
The neighborhood association considers the homeless living there neighbors and they believe that the cities money for sweeping the homeless would be better spent on long term solutions to homelessness.
Old Town is fighting a proposed 200 bed shelter in this central city location. It will not be open for months, but the neighborhood does not want another shelter. They are claiming that a 30 year old agreement about the distribution of homeless facilities in the central city will be violated.
Portland’s “housing crisis” trumps this agreement, except that a similar concept is in the draft 2035 Central City Plan. For practical reasons, this is a good location for a new homeless shelter because it is needed. The area will grow greatly over the next 20 years and the real estate cliché “highest and best use” will make all poverty-related land uses disappear.
Portland tourists and shoppers already complain about the dangers and unsightliness of the homeless in their midst.
The homeless count taken last February found that there has been a drop of 12 percent in people living on the street. The bad news is that there are at least 4,177 people without permanent shelter in Multnomah County which is a 10 percent increase over the 2015 count.
For the last year, the City and County have been adding shelter space for the homeless but even as the number of shelter beds has doubled, it is still not enough. Some don’t like shelters and would prefer to live outside. However, with winter just around the corner getting people off the streets and into shelters is critical.
Homeless camps are another double-edged sword. They seem to be popping up in residential areas in spite of neighborhood objections. While they are a good solution in many respects, there are too few places where they are welcomed.
With these enclosed places to sleep and additional services and supervision, they can work without serious problems even if it does unsettle the neighbors.
Dignity Village and Right Two Dream 2 are good examples and more tiny houses are being build for the homeless population without places to put them.
Good work is being done by caring, competent staff although too many chronic homeless do not want to leave their problematic life styles and become citizens. The issues need more resources.
Every city suffers from homelessness. It is expensive and many would be helped if the homeless were able to be rehabilitated and become contributing citizens again. Even so, homelessness will grow because of the constantly changing economy and the impact of 10,000 people that move to the City of Portland each year.
The current federal administration is very likely to cut the funding and programs that are so necessary to ameliorate homeless situations around the country, including Portland.
There is a national shortage of 7.4 million homes for low income people including the 25,000 needed in Portland. Many only have the options to pay excessive rents, to double up with relatives or friends, or to go to the street. The backlog would require $40 billion and this figure grows by $4.3 billion each year.
It seems ironic that the federal government is likely to provide over $100 billion for hurricane relief in Texas and Florida while continuing to underfund the ongoing national crisis of chronic homelessness.
Today one in four low-income people need financial assistance if they are to have a minimally adequate lifestyle.
Middle class homeowners benefit from four significant tax incentives that reduce the federal budget by $136 billion annually. These include the mortgage interest deduction; itemized state and local property tax deductions; and the exclusion of capital gains on the sale of a principal residence. Three quarters of these deductions go to taxpayers earning over $100 thousand a year.
If $20 billion were diverted from the mortgage interest deduction toward ending homelessness each year, the homeless problem might be solved within a few years.