Homelessness in Portland Part II

By David Krogh

There is no simple solution to eliminating homelessness, much less addressing it in a meaningful way. November’s edition introduced this topic.  This part explores remedies.

Homelessness is increasing within the greater Portland area by 10% per year and many other cities in the Northwest are also experiencing big increases.

For many years, sheltering was the primary response to homelessness. However, over time, both government and nonprofit agencies have come to agree that more was needed than just sheltering. Permanent housing and the availability of support services is the current approach used for alleviation of homelessness.

Dr. Jonathan Robbins of OHSU takes the discussion to a new dimension and adds support services into the mix.

“It is short-sighted to think that federal Section 8 housing and shelter beds alone will solve the homelessness crisis. Leaders in Salt Lake City, Utah, reduced chronic homelessness by more than 90 percent by pairing affordable housing with intensive addiction services and case management.” (The Oregonian November 5).

The promotion of housing and services is echoed by Jennifer Bragar, President of Housing Land Advocates, who states that government officials “need to understand the Continuum of Care and its goals around homelessness – wrap around services and availability and access to those services in connection with shelter.”

Retired activist Frank DiMarco, offered the following: “I think the biggest mistake is that many people living on our streets do not want the help and shelter being offered by Portland’s social services. Ask the police officers who have tried to get them somewhere for help. These folks need specialized help, which complicates the issue more.”

In response, media estimates say 40% or more of the homeless population experiences mental health issues or addiction problems. This suggests that specialized services are necessary to address the core problems for homeless individuals otherwise housing efforts will be ineffective.

Mayor Wheeler’s Office has offered a variety of information about how the City and other agencies are dealing with homelessness.

His office recently posted a link for a short, informative video discussing five things people should be aware of regarding the homeless: tinyurl.com/ycrf96z4.

“My first priority in our response to homelessness,” Mayor Wheeler said, “has been to increase access to permanent housing for our lowest-income, most vulnerable households, and also to increase wrap-around support services connected to that housing.

“We served 35,000 people through the investments the City and County made to the Joint Office of Homeless Services in the last fiscal year. That’s 5,000 less people on the streets, 6,000 people that were able to stay in housing and 8,500 that used our shelter system.

“There is much more to do and we must also further address the mental health and addiction crisis’s we are seeing playing out on our street as well.”

For example, only 11% of Portland’s homeless are from elsewhere and the rest are Portland residents.  Many include families with children.

Although people tend to see the homeless who sleep on sidewalks and in tents, there are many more who sleep in cars, RV’s, motels, on the couch of friends, and in traditional shelters.

Many of these have jobs that unfortunately don’t pay enough to allow for housing because of the lack of Portland’s affordable housing.

The Southeast Examiner spoke to staff at the Joint Office of Homeless Services. This is the lead agency providing for the implementation of A Home For Everyone, a comprehensive strategy begun in 2014.

Contracting with thirty different agencies for homeless services and support has yielded federal HUD monies and a budget of $72 million per year. See multco.us/joint-office-homeless-services.

A recent ECONorthwest study explores the reasons for homelessness,  including increased housing costs.

Portland’s gentrification is a contributor to the problem and is why the City of Portland needs to take an active role in the alleviation of homelessness. The report is at tinyurl.com/yb3lmr7x.

One agency addressing homelessness in a holistic manner is Central City Concern striving to provide a combination of housing with health and recovery services.

They currently provide 1700 housing units in the area, 65% of which are designated as affordable housing.  They partner with other agencies for other types of support including mobile services and cleanups.

Harbor of Hope is another group with goals of providing transitional housing and services to help the homeless advance their situations.

The Central Eastside Industrial Council (CEIC) has been dealing with homeless camp and security issues, especially in the areas of St. Francis Church (SE 12th) and City Team Ministries (SE Grand).

CEIC has subsequently contracted with Central City Concern’s Clean Start program for clean up assistance and Northwest Enforcement for security services.

Joint Office funding is going towards a new shelter project at SE 61st and Foster Road (up to 120 beds). In all, at least five homeless support facilities are already existing or in the works for East Portland and several more temporary shelters are planned during cold weather periods.

The City of Portland has put together what they call the Homeless Tool Kit; a series of Q’s and A’s on how to deal with homeless issues including nuisances and homeless camp litter. See tinyurl.com/ycsqjoth.

Hawthorne Boulevard Business Association co-president Gregg Harris has suggested the business community should consider partnering with support groups to help homeless get into jobs or start businesses of their own.

This, he feels, would be a more realistic approach than for government oversight of such a program. Similarly, the Joint Office is involved with Worksystems Inc.; a federally-funded nonprofit providing job training.

The Fair Housing Council of Oregon (FHCO) helps protect the civil rights of those seeking housing.

Housing Land Advocates (HLA) advocates for the appropriate implementation of Federal and State Housing requirements.

Several nonprofits and citizen groups provide free meals to the homeless.  Free Hot Soup is a volunteer group who has been serving hot soup and drinks downtown in Directors Park.

The St. Francis Dining Hall and City Team both serve food in inner SE. Other groups include Potluck in the Park (west end of the Hawthorne Bridge) and Union Gospel Mission (NW 3rd).

Hot off the presses: Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos has donated $5 million to JOIN, an East Portland nonprofit that helps homeless families transition into permanent housing and provides outreach support services in conjunction with other agencies.

This is a partial list of homeless support service groups that welcome donations of time and/or money:

Sheltering and Services:  Salvation Army, Portland Rescue Mission, Union Gospel Mission, Human Solutions

Housing and Services:  Central City Concern

Transitional Support and Outreach: Transition Projects, Harbor of Hope, JOIN

Jobs etc:  Worksystems Inc., Street Roots, various churches and synagogues

Homelessness in Portland Part II

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