If y'all haven't read it yet—focusing instead on smaller-bore stories like Mayor Charlie Hales' plans to sweep away a nearly two-year camping protest outside Portland City Hall—Street Roots last night laid down some truth on what's really at stake in Portland's paroxysms over homelessness and why the answers are so much bigger than camp sweeps and sit-lie laws. In short, it's a word called poverty.
The issue of downtown homelessness is bigger than any isolated incident of violence, or how panhandlers might annoy certain segments of the population. It’s bigger than a camp being swept in front of city hall, or under a nearby bridge. It doesn’t matter how many homeless camps or sidewalks you sweep, people are still going to be homeless....
The following list offers a prescription to ease the pain downtown:
• $1 million dollars for rent assistance to target hard to reach populations, including homeless families and youth downtown.
• Additional outreach workers to support JOIN and Janus Youth to provide harm reduction approaches to working with people in camps and on sidewalks.
• Additional mental health outreach workers and housing vouchers to target people experiencing mental health on the streets downtown.
• A committee to look strategically at increased, on-going revenue to support housing and homeless services in Multnomah County.
• Providing resources for two to four police officers to walk the beat in the cities central core to develop relationships and to target/detour violent or harassing behaviors.
• Create an organized and central line of communication between police officers, private security, park rangers, outreach workers and local businesses experiencing problems downtown.
There's so much more in the piece, by Israel Bayer, which takes a clear-eyed look at violence and drug use on the streets even as it warns against knee-jerk calls for knee-jerk enforcement. It's a reminder that there is common ground on a subject that's often controversial. And that there are answers. If we're brave enough and willing to come together and find them.