Ted Wheeler: Addressing Portland's livability without 'harassing the homeless' (Guest opinion)

A guest column from Mayor Ted Wheeler published in The Oregonian.

Dec 10, 2017

By Ted Wheeler

Portland is a dynamic and prosperous city, and I'm honored to serve as your mayor.

People are moving here from all around the nation and the world to participate in what our community has to offer, including diverse employment opportunities, thriving and unique neighborhoods, world-class restaurants and access to nature.

I am committed to ensuring that, as Portland grows, the things we love about our city grow along with us.

The Seattle Times recently characterized our economy as "transformational," and Forbes called Portland the "Best Place for Business and Careers" in the country. A recent survey from Downtown Clean and Safe found that employment, wages and the number of new businesses are all growing.

But this success and its resulting growth have come with some big-city problems, among them rising housing costs, concerns about safety, more litter and graffiti, and increased traffic congestion. More than anything else, I hear about the need to address our homeless crisis with clarity, consistency and compassion.

In concert with my colleagues in Portland, Multnomah County and the Joint Office of Homeless Services, we've made record investments - driven by record business license revenues - on a compassionate and comprehensive approach to homelessness. Our approach includes more rent assistance, enhanced shelter options, improved community mental health services, addiction treatment and permanent housing. We are doing more, even as the federal government retreats from its commitment to housing and mental health.

The goal is to get people the help they need to get off and stay off the streets.

We are already seeing signs of progress. Last year, our community partnerships with local business, non-profits and public agencies created pathways to stable housing and services to nearly 30,000 people in our community. A recent official count showed that there are fewer homeless people without shelter in Portland and Multnomah County than there were two years ago.

At the same time, our growing city is facing pointed questions about public safety and livability. I want to be clear: We can address safety and livability issues head-on without criminalizing homelessness. After all, people living on our streets are themselves vulnerable to crime and other hazards.

All of us should expect to live, work and conduct our daily lives in a community that is safe and clean. Nobody should feel threatened anywhere in our city, and nobody should be exposed to public health or environmental hazards that can be prevented.

My administration is pursuing common-sense public safety and livability strategies. We started by enforcing existing laws that had been inconsistently and sparingly applied in the past. That means increasing the number of police walking beats across the city, hiring more Park Rangers to patrol our parks, creating a new Community Service Officer program, enhancing Clean and Safe efforts to eliminate trash, biohazards and drug needles, expanding our neighborhood graffiti abatement program, and starting a new program to get hazardous and abandoned RVs off our roads.

Read full article in The Oregonian