PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — During the annual State of the City address Friday afternoon, Mayor Ted Wheeler said he is hopeful for the Rose City, but that Portlanders “have a lot of hard work ahead” dealing with a myriad of issues: gun violence, homelessness, racial inequality, mental health, addiction and more.

Referencing KOIN 6 News’ series Is Portland Over, Wheeler said “I understand why these questions are being asked of cities all across the nation as well as right here at home” and that the pandemic worsened the city’s existing problems.

The virtual event was held at noon and can be viewed at the bottom of the article

Wheeler pleaded with voters to reform Portland’s government away from its current commission state, calling it “systemically bigoted, red-tape ridden, antiquated.” But in the meantime, he said he wouldn’t wait for a “more functional form of city government to be put in place.”

He announced a continued stream of emergency declarations to address the city’s ongoing struggle with homelessness and public safety, including a new order made Friday that will focus on cleaning up the city “apart from and outside of occupied, outdoor homeless camps.”

According to the mayor, it will streamline the city’s efforts to clean up trash, abandoned cars and graffiti by installing a “central command structure” over 20 city programs and eight bureaus that are currently overseen by five different city council members.

The announcement comes on the heels of the 2022 Point in Time Count, which reported more than 6,000 people were experiencing homelessness across the tri-county area in late January.

“This increased number paints a stark picture of the reality that we’re facing,” Wheeler said.

According to the report, almost 40% of those counted in Multnomah County were people of color.

The Point in Time Count, released Wednesday, is a federally required tally and provides a snapshot of how many people are homeless on a given night in each community. It was the first full regional count since the pandemic began and Multnomah County’s first survey since 2019 when more than 4,000 people were recorded as experiencing homelessness.

Wheeler pointed to previous emergency declarations he had made on homelessness “which are already showing positive results.”

In February, Wheeler signed an emergency ban on homeless camps near roads with high amounts of crashes following a Portland Bureau of Transportation report that said the city saw its highest number of traffic deaths since 1990.

The Portland Bureau of Transportation’s Vision Zero Traffic Crash Report for 2021, released two days prior, said 70% of the pedestrians killed in 2021 traffic crashes were homeless.

On Friday, Wheeler said more than 30 camp sites are being removed in Portland per week.

More emergency declarations are coming, too, he said, including some targeted at reducing gun violence.

Wheeler, who serves as the Portland Police Bureau’s commissioner, said he remains committed to re-staffing it amid a 28-year roster low. He promised to ask state leaders to help by freeing up spots for officers at the training academy. However, his proposed budget for the next year doesn’t account for any additional sworn officers at PPB.

Instead, $3.9 million has been proposed to triple the bureau’s team of unarmed public safety officers, who take on low-priority calls like filing police reports for stolen vehicles. During Friday’s speech, Wheeler defended his budget, saying the move would free up time for sworn officers to focus on the “more pressing and dangerous criminal activity taking place on our streets.”

The mayor also touted the effectiveness of PPB’s Focused Intervention Team, which hit the street in January with a goal of reducing gun violence after a record-setting year for homicides. Since then, Wheeler said 176 arrests have been made and 49 guns have been seized.

Among other changes to public safety, Wheeler mentioned Portland Street Response’s recent expansion to include its services citywide. He said the program refocuses its response to mental health-related 911 calls by sending mental health experts instead of armed officers as a default first step.