Is this the Portland you want?

*All photos taken July 2020 in Portland, Oregon.

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Compassion without limits: Multnomah County wants more money to address homelessness

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It looks like Multnomah County has a vested interest in sustaining homeless problems.

On Thursday, Dec. 5, the Multnomah County Commission is scheduled to vote on whether to send a steadily increasing amount of hotel, motel and motor vehicle rental taxes intended for spurring tourism in the Portland metro area to programs aimed at addressing homeless problems in the the county.

Portland’s City Council and the Metro Council have already given their OK to the plan. It would involve amending a Visitor Facilities Intergovernmental Agreement (VFIA) originally signed in 2001.

If you just looked at the agenda for the Dec. 5 Commission meeting, you probably wouldn’t know what’s going on. Agenda item R.6 says:

“Resolution approving the Second Amended and Restated Visitor Facilities Intergovernmental Agreement (Second Amended and Restated VFIGA) between the City of Portland, Multnomah County, and Metro Regional Government. Presenters: William Glasson and Eric Arellano. (10 min)”

What does homelessness have to do with tourism, you might ask.  Bureaucrats and politicians have an answer. The resolution says dealing with homeless problems will “improve the visitor experience”. Specifically, it says:

“The Parties recognize that the area’s economic success has not been uniformly shared by the community and a vulnerable portion of the population has been negatively impacted by rapid increases in housing costs. An increased allocation from the (Visitor Facilities Trust Account ) VFTA as an additive source of funds to support the significant existing regional investments in affordable housing and supportive services to address the root causes of homelessness and its associated livability and safety concerns is appropriate, and will (i) improve conditions for the community and people experiencing homelessness, (ii) improve the visitor experience, and (iii) help Portland remain a desirable travel and tourism destination.”

And without saying so directly, the resolution seems to assume the homeless problem won’t get better with the additional money because the amount going to Multnomah County would steadily increase, more than doubling by 2022. In other words, it looks like the county does better if homelessness persists.

An analysis of the resolution prepared by the Department of County Management says:

“This funding will pay for livability and supportive services, and related operations costs, supporting programs and projects funded by proceeds of the City and Metro bonds approved by voters in 2016 ($258.4 million) and 2018 ($652.8 million)  affordable housing bond measure , respectively, to create affordable homes for low-income individuals.”

Multnomah County already gets $750,000 a year. If the resolution is approved, that would significantly increase to:

  • $2,500,000 in fiscal year (FY) 2019-20 and FY 2020-21,
  • $3,250,000 in FY 2021-22
  • $3,775,000 in FY 2022-23
  • $5,250,000 for FY 2023-24 and beyond.

In other words, the Portland Metro Area is already stressed spending millions every year fighting homelessness, recent bond measures promise much more, and now Multnomah County wants to grab even more (from tourism revenue, no less) to grow its homelessness bureaucracy, feed social-services providers and hype its compassion.

Is this really necessary?

Today may be “Giving Tuesday,” but do we really need to starve other community priorities, bastardize the meaning of tourism promotion, and embrace compassion without limits by endorsing measures like this?

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.

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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.

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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.

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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