Portland is doing better

Portland is doing better

This time of year, I find myself thinking about what has been accomplished in our community, what is left to be done, and the role business leaders have played – working with our elected officials – in tackling the thorny challenges that impact every single one of us. Chief among these challenges is our homelessness crisis and, while there is still much to be done, I look back with pride as I take stock of the collaboration among my fellow business leaders, elected leaders and service providers that has made a real difference in people’s lives and in our community.

As Portlanders, we have always led with compassion as we’ve addressed homelessness. At the Portland Business Alliance, where I serve as chair of the board, that means we prioritize providing safe, indoor places for people to sleep, including shelters to serve an immediate need and permanent housing options needed for long-term solutions; it also means providing services for those who need them, including mental health support, addiction treatments and health care. We also must address illegal behaviors and enforce community standards to ensure the health and safety of everyone, including the most vulnerable people who are sleeping outside.

Three years ago, the Alliance famously called on local leaders to “do better” to address this crisis, and I am thrilled that they have.

Under the leadership of Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury, nearly 700 new emergency shelter beds were added over 18 months, enabling a record number of people to move off the streets and resulting in an almost 12 percent reduction in the number of people unsheltered. Shelter clearly isn’t a permanent solution, but progress has been made across all fronts. A Home for Everyone, the joint city/county and public/private partnership to address homelessness, reports seeing record high numbers of placements into permanent housing, as well as individuals receiving homelessness prevention services.

Portland is doing better.

I am proud that the Alliance and its members have stepped up to be at almost every table where solutions were crafted. We have worked hand-in-hand with elected leaders to site shelters, with several of our members donating space, materials and money to prepare safe indoor options for people sleeping outside. We backed the Portland housing bond to provide long-term solutions for our lowest-income neighbors and we went to the table at both the city and state to develop a program to include low-income units into market-rate housing developments.

While naysayers may claim business isn’t doing enough to create a better Portland, our members go above and beyond, stepping up time and again to make progress. In fact, I wonder what our community would look like if we didn’t have Alliance members at the table working on this issue:
  • We wouldn’t have had many of the warm shelter beds made available by building owners who donated space and individual businesses that helped prepare them for habitation.
  • We wouldn’t have New Avenues for Youth, the phenomenal nonprofit that was created by a group of business people who had a vision for a more productive way to serve young people on the streets.
  • We wouldn’t have the Unity Center, the mental health emergency center created in a partnership among Alliance hospital members, or the new supportive housing units that will be developed by Central City Concern with a generous grant from our hospital members and others who responded to a capital campaign that I personally led.
  • We wouldn’t have the tremendously successful homeless-to-work program created through a partnership among Central City Concern, Clean & Safe and the Alliance.
  • And we wouldn’t have much of the revenue that fuels our nonprofit partners who serve on the frontlines to address homeless.

Those are just a few examples, but there are hundreds more. Whether they are office collections of warm clothes, Columbia Sportswear sending a truckload of coats to a service provider, employee-giving drives or the Portland General Electric Foundation donating $235,000 to our nonprofit partners, Alliance member businesses are coming together to be part of the solution.

And there is more to be done. This is an incredibly complex issue that will require a host of solutions and many players at the table.

This holiday season, I appreciate that the Alliance and our members have the opportunity to work collaboratively with our elected leaders, especially Mayor Wheeler and Chair Kafoury, in the effort to find a comprehensive solution, and that we have incredibly strong nonprofit partners like Central City Concern, JOIN, New Avenues, Transition Projects, Union Gospel Mission and many, many more. My New Year’s wish is that we keep at it in 2018 and we make even more progress toward the Alliance’s goal of ensuring that no one has to sleep outside. Portland can do even better.