Confronting the homeless: after Denver, whither Portland?

It hasn’t gotten much media coverage in Oregon, but on May 7, 2019, Denver voters defeated a ballot initiative that would have allowed homeless people to camp in outdoor public spaces like parks, sidewalks and vehicles.

Fed up voters didn’t just soundly reject the initiative; they pummeled it 83% to 17%.

Portland Mayor Wheeler says he’s going to run again. If he doesn’t resolve Portland’s homelessness crisis, he’s likely to face the same level of public rancor.

portlandcampers2

Portland, OR campers.

In 2011, only 1% of those surveyed an annual poll of Portland-area voters by DHM Research that was commissioned by the Portland Business Alliance said homelessness was the biggest issue facing Portland. By 2017, the share of those polled identifying homelessness as Portland’s biggest problem had risen to 24%.

In a Jan. 2019 telephone survey of 510 likely voters in the Portland Metro Region, including an oversample of City of Portland voters, homelessness remained the top-of-mind issue, jumping to 33% overall and 47% among voters in the City of Portland alone. Nearly one in three who said the Portland City Council was ineffective pointed directly to its failure to address homelessness as the reason.

At the same time, half the people polled said they felt the Portland area was headed in the wrong direction. A majority of voters said the region’s quality of life was declining— continuing a trend from a December 2017 study. Only 7% said the quality of life in the Portland Metro Region was getting better.

“just last weekend, a homeless couple set up a tent next to my house in broad daylight…, “ wrote a commenter on OregonLive.” I find more and more used condoms and needles by my house (which I have to dispose of), while my neighborhood experiences daily burglaries and car thefts, all of which the city does nothing about. These problems have exploded just in the past few years. I pay thousands of dollars in property and other taxes per year and get nothing in return. When is enough, enough?”

“Wheeler keeps putting more and more money in to coddling them and tells police to not help residents when harassed or attacked by transients,” wrote another commenter. “Transients have more rights in this city than tax paying voting residents and thus more and more keep coming. We need a tough policy and kick them out. Portland is slowly becoming the shelter for America’s homeless by choice, mentally ill and young lazy transients.”

Even though Portland still has a reputation as an ultra-left city, it’s clear Portlanders’ tolerance and patience are slipping.

That’s clearly what happened in Denver. another liberal (some would say more of a live-and-let-live libertarian) city,

Responding to an explosion of complaints by downtown businesses, Denver began enforcing an urban camping ban to keep people from spending the night on city sidewalks, in parks and other public spaces. In 2016, the city began sweeps to enforce the ban, picking up tents, sleeping bags and other detritus.

denverhomelesssweep

Police sweep homeless camps in downtown Denver, CO in 2016

Still, surveys in 2018 showed the homeless population increasing, with more people camping instead of staying in shelters.

“Something needs to happen. It’s gotten to the point where it is hard to live down there,” River North (RiNo) resident Josh Rosenberg, told Denver’s Channel 7 in late 2018. “It’s not just one or two homeless guys sleeping on the street; there’s been times where they will set up camp and have tarps and suitcases and shopping carts and kind of make a little village out of it and they’ll be there until somebody calls the police.”

In late 2017, homeless advocates submitted enough signatures to get Initiative 300, referred to as the “Right to survive initiative, on the ballot. The initiative wouldhave effectively overturned Denver’s urban camping ban.

“Denver faces a choice: to do nothing, and let Denverites experiencing homelessness struggle to survive, to sleep at night, and to make it to their jobs, or to take action, and take the first step toward empathy, dignity and realistic solutions,” the Yes on 300 supporters said.

But opposition quickly became obvious. “The election was a referendum on quality of life,” said one online Denver Post commenter. “If you just moved here you don’t know, but those of us that have lived in Denver for 30 years have drastically seen quality of life decrease…”

An increasing number of Portlanders feel that way as well. If he’s not careful, Ted Wheeler could get pummeled, too.

_____________

You can find more about the survey and results at the Portland Business Alliance:

https://portlandalliance.com/assets/pdfs/2019-PBA-Jobs-Economy-DHMReport-January.pdf

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One thought on “Confronting the homeless: after Denver, whither Portland?

  1. These issues have been mounting in Reno, NV as well. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals out of CA has ruled that any laws which may impinge on a member of the transient population’s right to carry out life-sustaining activities, including sleeping, are basically to be disregarded. We’re at the point here where calling the police is a dead end road.

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