PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — As Portland begins the third year in a row of gun violence reaching record levels, the Old Town and China Town neighborhood has been one of the focal points of the increases. In response, the Old Town Community Association launched a 90-day reset plan for the area.
Wednesday, business and community leaders provided an update on the rest, noting there is a long road ahead to bring the area back to a place where people can feel safe.
“Where we are right now is pretty close to the bottom,” said Jessie Burke, the owner of the Society Hotel in the district and president of the OTCA.
OTCA says person-on-person crimes are 32% higher in the district, property crimes are 21 percent higher, and society crimes are 29 percent higher than the rest of Portland averages.
Four people have been killed already this year in the district, including two at the start of April.
Burke says the people who have been killed are “almost exclusively, if not entirely exclusively” people who are living unhoused and it’s hard to distinguish the “predators from the prey” among that group.
“It’s really difficult to differentiate between who is really having a hard time and who is out here to capitalize on the lack of police that we have.” said Ian Williams, the owner of Deadstock Coffee in the district.
Williams opened is store in 2015 and opened his first storefront in 2016. He says break-ins that were rare before 2020, have become rampant since.
“A lot of places are still boarded up,” Williams said, “They are operational and they’re still boarded up. It’s hard to get people to feel comfortable coming down here.”
Thus, the goal of the 90 day reset.
OTCA set several goals in three areas: Safety, Cleanliness, and Accessibility.
Of the nearly twenty goals, two have been completed, which are three dedicated cleaners and one trash truck regularly scheduled and for trash pick-ups to happen daily.
To that effect, 11,000 square feet of graffiti have been removed, trash is being picked up more frequently, and there are 15 percent fewer tents than nearly two months ago.
“The goal for Old Town is we need no human living on the sidewalk. It is not safe and I will not pretend like even a small decline in our tents has improved safety here.” Burke said.
OTCA also noted the goals it says are “in progress.”
-Person-on-person crimes reduced by 40 percent
-Property crime reduced by 50 percent
-Society Crime reduced by 40 percent
-Increase the Brightness of Lamp Posts
-Funding additional lighting
-Mental Health response teams implemented with Blanchet House
-Unauthorized tens count reduced b 33 percent
For Steve Wytcherly, the operations manager for Downtown Portland Clean & Safe, he’s worked in humanitarian crises in his previous careers all around the globe and says what he sees in Old Town is shocking.
“Living conditions in refugee camps and displaced person communities are somewhat better than what we find in our streets currently.”
Williams notes these aren’t new problems in Old Town, despite crimes increasing drastically since 2020, but the environment in the neighborhood now are not conducive for doing business.
“People experiencing houselessness and homelessness and behavioral health issues, they were here before we were here.” he said.
There are several goals OTCA says do not have a meaningful update to share.
-PBOT to reinforce lampposts to sustain the weight of light strings
-Portland Polcie Officers know the name of at least one person at each business or residence. Business owners and nonprofits know the name and number of at least one PPB officer in old town
-Downtown Portland Clean & Safe Budget Old Town holiday lighting
-BPS to work with Clean & Safe to identify and replace all city trash bins
-PBOT to repair all damaged red lamp posts
-PBOT to repair all damaged or tipped bollards on festival streets
-Untagged and/or abandoned vehicles are removed from public parking areas, and/or areas where vehicles are not legally permitted to park within 24 hours.
-All sidewalks have 60 inches o walkway clearance for ADA accessibility
-Remove Planter at NW 1st & Davis to regain easy visitor access to the Smart Park Garage
-Left Turn from eastbound burnside onto NW 4th Ave. remains in place
The entire press conference can be viewed in the video player below. Story continues after the video.