Concerns of Old Town: ‘Not the wild west, but darn close’


People who live and work in the neighborhood have watched as it transformed before their eyes

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Portland police are stepping up patrols in Old Town and in the Pearl District. They said residents have become concerned about increasing levels of crime since businesses have closed there.

Some people have described it as getting close to lawlessness in some areas of Old Town. Residents told KOIN 6 News that there has been more trash collecting in the streets and criminal activity going on — and they’re concerned for their safety.

“It’s not so great. There’s lot of tents, needles everywhere,” said Alex Griffith who works in Old Town.

People who live and work in the neighborhood have watched as it transformed before their eyes. Katrina Shannon, a resident, said the number of tents has tripled, along with the nighttime activity.

“Usually, they are pretty loud, but now they seem to be more out of control,” said Shannon.

There has also been an uptick in reports of crime.

“There’s a lot of angry people,” said Griffith. “I mean, there was a guy just a couple of blocks down with a crowbar that was screaming at people and yelling at them.”

In fact, while KOIN 6 News’ Jennifer Dowling was interviewing Griffith, the man he referenced walked by with a small crowbar in his hand. He was being pursued by another person who said he had their phone. A passing police officer intervened.

“He’s been menacing people for like, the last half hour with that crowbar,” said Griffith.

Tiffany Jackson, the general manager of the Society Hotel, said, “It’s not the wild, wild west, but it’s pretty darn close. The sanitation and support needs to get better.”

Jackson later added, “We all love working and being in Old Town and we want all our businesses to succeed. The entertainment district provides so much income for the city that often is unnoticed from other neighborhoods. Our retail shops are incredibly diverse and creative, the many cultures that merge together here have helped to create the richness in our city. We are an unpolished gem that deserves to have city support to make it a safer, more beautiful place for tourism and our own community to thrive!”

At the Blanchet House, where people can get a hot meal, Executive Director Scott Kerman said the situation is also dangerous for their clients.

“It doesn’t help us in the work that we’re doing if the people we are serving don’t feel safe and secure,” said Kerman, who also serves on the Board of the Old Town Community Association. “It’s hard for them really to get a decent night’s sleep because there are really no emergency shelters operating now except in some rare cases, so it’s been a pretty awful experience for those people and here we are in mid-May with no foreseeable end in sight for at least the people we’re serving.”

“When all the businesses shut down and many of them may have boarded up to protect their property,” said Kerman. “I understand it’s going to be difficult for them to reopen and be successful without a significant improvement in our area.”

In response, Portland Police has increased visibility patrols in Old Town as well as the Pearl District.

“People are concerned about the potential for assaults,” said Lt. Tina Jones of the PPB. “There have been complaints about open-air drug transactions, and so we want to get ahead of that before something bad happens.”

In addition to criminal enforcement, PPB officers will also be engaging with the homeless and others in the area to see if they are in need of local services.

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