PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Portland Mayor Wheeler spoke from the City Council chambers Monday morning — just over one week before Election Day.
At the press conference, Wheeler fielded questions on topics ranging from the proposed police oversight board to the city’s homelessness issues and possible election-time violence.
Shortly before the mayor’s media availability, opposing Mayoral Candidate Sarah Iannarone released an open letter to Wheeler over police, houselessness and housing. This letter was in regard to recent articles detailing the Portland Police Bureau’s record of “criminalizing poverty.”
In the letter, Iannarone penned a 3-step approach to addressing what she says is “the outrageous over-policing of houseless people and the corresponding massive waste.” She’s calling for him to do several things: immediately accept the additional proposed PPB budget cuts; reallocate housing development dollars to buying hotel properties as shelter space; and work with the district attorney to prevent prosecuting homeless people for unavoidable crimes.
KOIN 6’s Elise Haas asked the mayor for his reaction.
“The data speaks for itself,” Wheeler said. “The homeless are significantly over represented in the arrest data.”
However, he said he woudn’t commit to any more budget cuts to PPB unless the data can show it would increase public safety. But, he’s open to all options that would fast track affordable and transitional housing — and prevent over-policing homelessness.
“This may be an area where Sarah and I are in agreement in diagnosing the problem and understanding what has to happen.”
Full letter from Iannarone at the bottom of this article
Wheeler was asked for his thoughts on how to further handle the seemingly never-ceasing issue of homelessness in the city.
“I believe we need to make a sizable investment and a quick investment into getting people off the streets,” Wheeler said. “The Oregonian article over the weekend highlighted that housing remains paramount and we have a dire shortage of low-income and workforce housing in this community.”
Wheeler went onto say with more financial resources coming in, there’s a chance to further allocate funds towards getting those experiencing homelessness into low-income housing.
“I believe there are rules, there are regulations that we could disband during this time of crisis for the specific purpose of building some large number of low-income housing units in this community. I would argue with the resources we have coming in, the question I would ask isn’t ‘why don’t we?’ — my question is what would it take to build 5,000 units or be on track to build 5,000 units within a three-year period?”
Also in the media briefing, Wheeler said an announcement is coming in the next day or two about specific interagency plans for any potential post-election violence.
“The goal is for all of us to move a little bit, for all of us to compromise a little bit so that we can have a solid mutual aid agreement that we all agree to in advance — that we are all on the same page and we won’t have to stop and have discussions or deliberations about whose policies or whose directives are in effect and whose are not,” he said. “Everything is on the table in these discussions, from the use of crowd dispersal techniques to the question of federal deputization, to the role of state versus county versus local law enforcement.”
Oregon has been named one of five states at the highest risk of increased militia activity in the election and post-election period, according to a report which reviews the latest data on right-wing militia organizations across the country.
The joint report comes from Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED), a crisis mapping project, and MilitiaWatch, which researches U.S. militias.
Groups described as militias that have been active in Oregon since the beginning of the summer include Proud Boys, Patriot Prayer, III%ers, Boogaloo Bois and Sons of Liberty, according to the report.
On Friday, Wheeler presented the details of the Portland COVID-19 Household Assistance Program (CVHAP).
The program — a partnership with the United Way of the Columbia-Willamette and other local organizations — helps with costs such as food, dependent care, medicine, rent and utilities and transportation. Through the program, the city will distribute 2,800 prepaid debit cards through two open application windows.
The cards will be given out on a first-come-first-served basis.
The application window for the first 1,400 cards opens on October 27 beginning at 9 a.m. and the remaining 1,400 will be distributed on October 30 beginning at 1 p.m. All applications must be submitted online.
This press conference also comes days after Multnomah County has been placed back on the governor’s COVID-19 Watch List.
Health officials reported 366 new cases of COVID-19 in Oregon on Sunday — the state’s highest daily case count since the start of the pandemic. Of those cases, 82 were reported in Multnomah County.
Oregon Health Authority’s Senior Health Advisory Dr. Shimi Sharief said trends that contribute to the higher case count in Multnomah County also play out across the state, namely, get-togethers with people outside the immediate household.
“Actually, it’s not that different from the rest of the counties, it’s just that certain trends can be noted to Multnomah County before we see it elsewhere—increased risk for crowding, just with more people living in a smaller amount of space,” said Sharief. “So, it’s actually the same reasons why Multnomah County is experiencing more cases than the rest of the counties in Oregon. It’s all just smaller gatherings, non-household gatherings, people clustering together in groups greater than their household.”
Full letter from Sarah Iannarone to Mayor Ted Wheeler