[You can read all of the Mercury’s “Top Stories of 2021” here.—eds]
The COVID pandemic added a heaping pile of instability on top of a local housing market already on shaky ground in 2021. The financial losses that accompanied the pandemic forced thousands to seek rental assistance—while the state scrambled to meet the need, and those without a home began facing limitations on where they could safely rest outside. Meanwhile, taxpayer dollars meant to support those at risk of homelessness began slowly reaching those in need.
Laurelhurst Park Swept: The pandemic introduced slight adjustments in the city’s response to homelessness, specifically in how it handles sweeping homeless camps. After months of allowing individuals camping along the perimeter of Laurelhurst Park, the city conducted a large sweep of the area in July. The disruptive process forced many to simply relocate their camps a few blocks away, before returning to the Laurelhurst area—a familiar cycle for those without housing. Several of the residents living in the area sued the city in May for allegedly discarding or losing their personal property during a prior camp sweep.
Portland Pitches “Safe Rest Villages”: City Council attempted to address the growing number of homeless camps this year by introducing a plan to set up six “safe rest villages”—or sanctioned outdoor homeless shelters—for Portlanders by the end of the year. That goal hasn’t been met. As of now, City Commissioner Dan Ryan, who oversees the city’s response to homelessness, has unveiled the locations of three of the future village sites, but has made no steps to begin development.
The Next Chapter for C3PO: The pandemic introduced three other village-style outdoor shelters in 2020 organized by a grassroots coalition dubbed Creating Conscious Communities with People Outside, or “C3PO.” While these C3PO villages were supposed to be temporary emergency shelters for unhoused Portlanders, the city is now folding them into its larger network of long-term shelters. But the C3PO villagers who helped create their community aren’t thrilled by the transition and the new rules and regulations that come with it.
Metro Tax Reaches Unhoused Portlanders: Funds from Metro’s supporting housing service tax began flowing in 2021, and county officials steered it towards an array of support services in Multnomah County. While some well-funded critics have raised concerns with where these funds are being spent, it’s still too early to see just how big an impact these dollars will have on the region’s homeless crisis.
Rent Assistance Goes Awry: This year saw thousands of renters teetering on the edge of eviction due to the state’s inability to disperse rental assistance funds quickly enough. Thanks to a faulty online system and poor oversight, the state was forced to hold an emergency legislative session in December to keep those who’ve applied for assistance housed a little while longer.