Where We Live: Ed Blackburn at Central City Concern


PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — As Portland struggles with a growing homeless population, the head of one of the main organizations trying to solve the problem is retiring.

Ed Blackburn and Central City Concern are a big part of where we live.

Visitors to Portland say the thousands of homeless people all over the city is one of the first things they notice.

“I think it’s wrong to mislead the public that there are easy answers to this,” Blackburn said.

As executive director of Central City Concern for nine years and 25 years total at the organization, Blackburn has worked on the problem. He’s been getting people off the streets even as more people end up there.

“It’s frustrating,” he said. “I will say that if Multnomah County and the City of Portland hadn’t taken the measures that they’ve taken over the last 10 to 15 years, it certainly would be a lot worse.”

Central City Concern started in the 1980s to deal with alcoholism among Portland’s skid row population. The non-profit has grown with Portland and the homeless problem.

It has a $70 million budget and 900 employees, many of whom are former clients. They provide everything from addiction services to housing.

“We’re housing a lot of low-income people,” Blackburn said. “For us, it’s over 2,700 people every night we are housing that would otherwise be homeless.”

The high cost of housing is a major factor in homelessness, along with more people moving to Portland, inmates getting out of prison, lack of treatment facilities for the mentally ill who end up on the street and a new factor –increasing addictions to opiods.

“We’ve got a difficult situation to work our way out of, but we don’t work our way out of it by doing nothing,” Blackburn said.

Blackburn said now is the time for him to see the world and spend time with his family, but as long as there are homeless people, he’ll be around.

“I doubt I’ll be able to stay out of trouble for very long,” he said. “I just have a feeling about that too.”

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