BLOG: Finding ways that Portland Can Do Better

BLOG: Finding ways that Portland Can Do Better

In the summer of 2015, the Alliance launched its “Portland Can Do Better” campaign, which was designed to engage the public in urging the city to do more to address homelessness. At the heart of the campaign was the belief that all people should have a warm, dry place to sleep inside and access to the services they need, and that livability laws should be enforced so everyone is safe. At the time, 1,887 individuals in Multnomah County were unsheltered. It was our belief then - and continues to be the fundamental driver of all of our advocacy around homelessness today - that it is not safe nor humane to have men, women and children sleeping outside in parks, rights of way and public spaces. Portland can, and must, do better.

Since that time, the Alliance and the business community have stepped up to partner with Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury and the city/county Joint Office of Homeless Services to expand capacity to address homelessness in our community. We have worked with and supported nonprofit service providers and advocates, including Central City Concern, Transition Projects, Inc., JOIN and Street Roots. Our work over the past two years shows the importance of acting collectively, as a community, to address the homeless crisis.

Watch the video below to hear Mayor Ted Wheeler discuss the city's partnership with the business community at a press conference about homelessness on Oct. 6.

There is still work to be done. Far too many people still do not have indoor shelter; and, as a recent KGW poll showed, Portlanders are concerned with the safety and livability impacts of homeless camps in neighborhoods throughout our city. The poll results also demonstrated Portlanders wish to lead with compassion. That is what we, at the Alliance, have been focused on in cooperation with our members, elected leaders and service provider partners. Over the past two years:
  • Property owners have stepped up to open their private buildings for temporary shelters, providing indoor accommodations for hundreds who would otherwise be living on our streets and in our public spaces. Businesses provided money and materials to ready those properties for our most vulnerable residents.
  • The Unity Center for Behavioral Health, which opened in January 2017, came from a partnership between four of the leading regional health care providers, Legacy Health, Adventist Health, Kaiser Permanente Northwest and Oregon Health & Science University. The $40 million facility provides 24-hour emergency psychiatric services and ongoing treatment plans for those experiencing any kind of mental health crisis, and is the first of its kind in the northwest.
  • The homeless-to-work program, a partnership between Clean & Safe and Central City Concern, has provided opportunities for formerly homeless individuals to reenter the workforce and obtain gainful employment to continue their path toward stabilization.
  • The Alliance joined the effort to support passage of a city affordable housing bond to provide new housing opportunities to overcome or avoid homelessness.
  • The Alliance, Clean & Safe and Travel Portland donated funds to JOIN to buy new vehicles to move individuals and families from the streets or shelters into permanent housing.
  • The Alliance and Clean & Safe have contributed resources to Transition Projects, Inc., for outreach services to individuals experiencing homelessness. We also made a contribution to Central City Concern for its capital campaign to provide permanent supportive housing, and that contribution was matched by a personal check from our chair Jim Mark and his wife Jenny Mark.
  • Alliance members have stepped up time and again to support nonprofit service providers on the front lines working with individuals needing service. Most recently, Portland General Electric contributed a total of $235,000 to a variety of agencies working to address the homeless crisis.
This list goes on. The important take away is that, as a community, we are working collectively to address our homeless crisis. It’s not easy work and it will not be solved overnight. Failed policies of the past that allowed camping in public spaces has meant we need to work even harder to turn things around.

But progress has been made. More than 600 additional shelter beds have been added, reversing a years-long trend in our community of declining indoor space for those experiencing homelessness. In 2017, the number of unsheltered individuals declined 11.6 percent to 1,668, despite an overall increase in homelessness. Portland is unique among West Coast cities in seeing a decline in unsheltered individuals. We are doing better.

This is important work. It takes dedication from our elected leaders, nonprofits, businesses and the community at large. I’m proud of the work the Alliance has done with all of our partners. We remain committed to continuing efforts to help vulnerable community members and ensuring our city remains inviting, safe and livable for everyone.