A homeless encampment alongside Portlands Laurelhurst Park.
A homeless encampment alongside Portland's Laurelhurst Park. Alex Zielinski

In 2018, an Oregonian investigation found that more than half of all arrests made by Portland police the previous year were of unhoused people. That trend hasn't changed in the years since—and a recent episode of Reveal, a podcast by the Center for Investigative Reporting, helps explain why.

The episode "Handcuffed and Unhoused" is the end product of a months-long investigation by Melissa Lewis, a Reveal reporter based in Portland. Lewis previously worked for the Oregonian, where she co-authored the 2018 story on homeless arrests. Her episode, which first aired on December 18, details how unhoused Portlanders can easily be swept up into a cycle of arrests due to the simple fact that they don't have a home. Many are stuck with a record of low-level crimes that illustrate their means of survival, like urinating in public, unlawful littering, trespassing on public property, or possession of an illegal substance.

Lewis' reporting also shines an important light on the city's current conversation around "safe rest villages'—or, the sanctioned outdoor shelters proposed by City Commissioner Dan Ryan. In one audio clip from a public meeting with the Lents Neighborhood Livability Association (an unofficial neighborhood group known for harassing homeless campers in their neighborhood), Ryan explained that, once the city builds these villages, "[the city] will have places to take people and then if they don’t want to go there, then law enforcement and others have an opportunity to actually do something to move them." This theory seems to reveal a darker motivation behind creating these villages, one that gives the police a green light to crack down on homeless camps.

The are more revelations tucked into the episode that are worth your time. Listen in or read the episode transcript here.