Wheeler talks city revitalization, homelessness, protests

Civic Affairs

Wheeler called out demonstrators seen at protests and riots in downtown Portland

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Mayor Ted Wheeler held a press conference Monday morning that covered a variety of topics, including the ongoing protests, the City Council’s agenda and the efforts to revitalize the city.

Mayor Wheeler discussed items such as a public safety report and an air quality program for downtown Portland. He also touched on homelessness, the efforts underway to help the downtown area bounce back and ongoing protests seen in the city.

When asked about the Inauguration Day riots seen in Portland, Mayor Wheeler said he was pleased with the Portland Police Bureau’s actions — saying they were able to make good identifications and quick arrests.

Yet, the city still sees ongoing demonstrations that often result in destruction. After being asked about those engaging in destructive and criminal behavior, Wheeler did not mince words.

“I want to call them out for who they are: they are largely young to middle-aged white men who are often co-opting other movements. You don’t get a free pass when you ransack a business and then spray paint ‘BLM’ on it,” he said. “That does not give you a free pass and it does not justify or validate the destruction you are engaged in.

“I have been saying repeatedly, the way you stop this is you hold people accountable and responsible for their acts of criminal destruction and violence — you prosecute them and you hold them accountable. I have further said it would be my wish to engage in restorative justice. I’m not sure if for some of these thugs, throwing them in the slammer for a day or two will make any impression at all.”

What he does think will make an impression, he said, is if those perpetrators are forced to meet with small business owners, operators and employees to hear about the social and economical consequences of their actions.

“I think a lot of these men really don’t draw a line between their actions and the impact that they are having on people who are really struggling to get by due to the economic consequences of COVID,” he said. “They need to see it and they need to see it with clarity.”

Watch Wheeler’s full press briefing at the bottom of this article

Wheeler also told reporters he has no intention of bringing back the Gun Violence Reduction Team. He said whatever replaces it will have a prevention focus, a community engagement focus and will be reporting back to the community.

When fielding questions about homelessness in the city, Wheeler went onto list his top three priorities for his second term, which are safety, homelessness and livability. All of which, he said, impact people’s feelings about downtown and surrounding areas.

“There was a study that was released just this week that foot traffic [downtown] is down 80% and that is largely based on COVID. So until we get our arms around the COVID crisis — downtown will not bounce back,” he said. “I want to be clear, this isn’t just a downtown story, this is also the case in our neighborhood business districts and industrialized areas. So number one, we need to make sure that we get the vaccinations out, we get COVID addressed.

“I’m going to continue to focus on programming to address those issues and will continue to work with our community partners, which include not only employers but also the neighborhood associations, the business district associations, the industrial district associations and others throughout the community who are concerned with the speed with which we need to come back economically — and I share that urgency.” 

Recently, Wheeler helped announce a new campaign to encourage Portlanders to support local businesses through the winter months. Billboards from Here for Portland have been popping up throughout downtown. 

“Most of the office buildings around me are completely vacant, and that’s because we’re still in the throes of the COVID crisis, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have homeless, safety and livability issues that we also need to address. I’m keenly aware of that.”

Wheeler says an approach of working with the state, the county and metro area will help the city push his vision forward, even through the pandemic.

“Particularly on the homeless front, we have been extremely innovative,” Wheeler continued. He listed several actions taken in order to help the homeless population in Portland, including calling for additional beds and the passing of the Metro Supportive Housing Services bond — which Wheeler said doubles the number of resources available for things like mental health and safety abuse safety net.

In the briefing, Wheeler also floated the concept of on-demand substance abuse treatment.

“Wouldn’t it be grand if we had something closer to on-demand substance abuse treatment in this city and in this state, the way that other countries do?” Wheeler asked. “Maybe we wouldn’t have as many social issues that we see in this city.”

However, he says a big issue standing in the way of treatment like that could be collaboration within the state.

“For us to be able to realize these grand visions, it requires something that we don’t always do very well in this state and that is collaboration — from our federal officers to our state leaders to our county leaders to our city leaders — all of us need to work together and include the private sector of the philanthropic and the non-profit sectors in order to bring these visions to fruition,” he said. “What I’m hearing more than anything is people want action — I want action — but I can’t do it all alone, obviously.

In the tail end of the media briefing, one reporter asked Wheeler about a tip she had received that claimed Wheeler had pepper-sprayed someone on Sunday night. Wheeler disclosed he did have an “incident” that resulted in him filing a police report, but did not give any other details.

His office is expected to release a statement later in the day. KOIN 6 News will continue to follow this story.

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