Wheeler makes push for measure to fund homeless services


The Portland Mayor says 'HereTogether' tax of roughly $300 million will be on May ballot

File photo of Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler (KOIN)

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler says a homeless services funding measure is fait accompli — and he wants you to vote for it. 

“It will be on the ballot in May, and I will be a leading proponent of that effort,” Wheeler said in an interview on Saturday, Feb. 1.

The Metro Council will hold a work session on the potential May primary election measure on Tuesday, Feb. 4, according to the Portland Tribune. A council vote is tentatively scheduled for Thursday, Feb. 20.   As recently as December, political watchers seemed skeptical of the timing of the proposal, which has the strong backing of the HereTogether coalition but could crowd out following money measures, like the $3 billion transportation bond Metro plans for later in 2020. 

If indeed the Metro Council sends the homelessness tax to the ballot, voters in Multnomah, Clackamas and Washington counties could raise as much as $300 million for the chronically homeless, though where the money would come from hasn’t been fully detailed in public yet. 

Wheeler said the discussions about who will serve as caretaker of the taxpayer money, as well as Here Together’s role, are still ongoing. But he’s convinced the money will help create permanent supportive housing with treatment for addiction and mental health issues. 

“We know we can build the housing, that’s not the problem,” Wheeler added. “The problem is do we have the resources and the capacity to be able to provide the services to make that housing successful.” 

The mayor — who has said repeatedly that homelessness is his No. 1 priority — embarked on the first in another series of community forums on that topic on Saturday. 

The event at Portland Community College’s Southeast 82nd Avenue campus wasn’t too different from the homelessness forums he held last year, or the year before that, with dizzying lists of statistics and upwardly trending lines. 

• For instance, while federal counts show 4,000 unhoused here, the city-county Joint Office of Homeless Services reports serving 37,000 in the latest fiscal year. 

• Central City Concern removed 2.3 million pounds of trash from in 2019, a 115% increase from 2018.

• More than 72,00 needles were removed by clean-up crews in 2019, compared with 29,000 in 2018 

Forum attendee Nancy Merchant said people defecate and inject drugs in the alley by her home off Powell Boulevard. 

“My kids have seen things that no kids should see growing up,” she said. “The camps, even when they get cleaned up, just move one block down.”

The Portland Tribune is a KOIN 6 News media partner

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