Mayor, community members hold homeless solutions forum

Civic Affairs

The Downtown Neighborhood Association organized the forum

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — People trying to tackle Portland’s homeless problem met Saturday morning to talk about some of the programs that city leaders have planned to address it.

There are already thousands of homeless people on the street and the mayor cited statistics from Eco-Northwest that show 56,000 households are in danger of becoming homeless because they pay over half their wages in rent and utilities, and there is no sign of the problem slowing down.

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler spoke at a forum on homelessness organized by the Downtown Neighborhood Association Saturday. November 23, 2019 (KOIN)

At Saturday’s forum, the mayor, other city leaders, members of the Downtown Neighborhood Association, and local residents listened as those who’ve experienced homelessness shared their stories.

“I sat in my apartment until the last day I could legally do it,” said one speaker. “Then I left with only a small backpack. I was houseless.”

The Downtown Neighborhood Association organized the event in an effort to bring stakeholders together to discuss solutions to the homeless crisis in the metro area.

“By traditional economic standards, we are on fire,” said Mayor Ted Wheeler. “But the reality is, too many people in our community are not participating in that economic growth.”

Discussions on affordable housing were at the top of the list of concerns, with that perceived as one of the biggest barriers to those who are still working, but are forced to sleep outside.

“I think that the big issue is that people want access to affordable housing,” said Marisa Zapata, Director of Portland State University’s Homelessness Research and Action Collaborative.

A solutions-based activity at the forum on homelessness organized by the Downtown Neighborhood Association. November 23, 2019 (KOIN)

Advocates said one of the biggest complexities with solving the problem is that not all homeless people have found themselves houseless for the same reasons. The stories of why they’re having trouble getting off the streets is very different for each individual.

“I think the first thing about homelessness is we do not generalize everyone as the same,” said Kate Dickson, a member of the Downtown Neighborhood Association. “Every homeless person in Portland has their own story.”

When it comes to solutions, the mayor said he had brought forth a hygiene pilot program to address the need for more restrooms. There is also a new street response program that will launch next spring to address low-level 911 calls for reports that don’t involve criminal activity.

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