Invisible Residents

Homelessness problem

The homeless crisis that has hit Portland, Oregon, has been ranked as one of the most disastrous in the entire U.S. Circumstances are blunting even the most sensitive and liberal hearts. 

The presence of disheveled people unaware of their own identity, adorned in layers of smelly and filthy clothes is growing every day. They are roaming the streets of Portland City, approaching passers-by and startling them with their behavior. Shannon, one of the Portland residents, explains that, even though she sympathizes with their suffering, it is much easier to neglect them.

The Rise of the Crisis

The population of Portland has reached 2.4 million residents, making it far different from the 19th-century settlement inhabited by lumberjacks and dockers. The city’s acceptance of revolutionary politics, as well as hipster crunchiness, has acquired it not only praise but also subtle mockery as “the capital of mockery.” However, Portland has recently experienced the gloom of political activism in terms of several violent clashes between far right-wing organizations and Antifa. 

The current severe threat to Portland City is growing homelessness, similar to that in L.A. and San Francisco. Allegedly, the years of liberal politics, increasing residential expenses, as well as a generous safety net have resulted in the crisis that mustn’t be neglected any longer. 

The Cause of Homelessness

You can stumble upon people sleeping in the streets at any time of the night. The most recent report published in August indicates that 2019 saw the highest number of people sleeping in the streets of Multnomah County compared to any period in the last decade. The city counts 2,037 homeless people, 80% of whom are disabled. 

Rachel Solotaroff from Central City Concerns explains that two factors are considered as the cause of homelessness in Portland. According to her, homelessness falls in the intersection of the following factors:

  • The lack of economical accommodation as well as substantial jobs;
  • Fundamental racism and prejudice;
  • The cooperation with the criminal justice system;   
  • Personal experience;
  • Severe mental issues and diseases;
  • Substance abuse disorder;
  • Traumas;
  • Poverty or poor revenue;
  • Experience or traumas from the foster care system.

Emergency Need for Adequate Solutions

With the growing number of homeless people, the appeals for proper solutions have aggravated. Some citizens feel as if the authorities have let them down, particularly those who are in the greatest need. What’s more, they complain that the city’s reaction to the crisis inflicted too many expenses and was fragmented and inefficient. They add that Portland politics don’t deal with mental disorders adequately. According to them, there isn’t such a thing as an easy solution.

Naomi Oliver, a Portland resident, wonders how safe it actually is to let homeless people suffering from mental disorders roam the city streets. 

Disturbing Measures

In June 2019, Disability Rights Oregon reported that Portland hospitals applied trespassing laws to ban the homeless or mentally challenged. The report is based on the analysis of police arrests in the period between summer 2017 and summer 2018 at six hospitals. It was discovered that, if a homeless or mentally challenged person is asked to leave the hospital and they refuse, they might end up in jail. The actual problem, however, lies in the fact that hospitals tend to alarm the police because they refuse to admit them. 

Oregon State was severely criticized a few years ago for moving patients with mental disorders from intensive care to less restrictive care. Reformers have long claimed that civil freedoms are essential. Therefore, imprisoning a person for too long deprives them of their fundamental rights. Critics argue that releasing them from treatment before due or with no adequate follow-up might provoke a backslide. This, in turn, may put them in danger of harming not only themselves but also other people. 

Safety Concerns

No matter if they are mentally challenged, drug addicts, or going through hard times, the growing number of homeless people on Portland streets makes the citizens and visitors concerned about their safety. What’s more, some businesses are gradually leaving the city due to the increase in the number of homeless people.  

Michael Kirby, a gift shop manager, believes that his store has seen a 15% decrease in sales. He explains that people kept running into his shop, claiming they didn’t feel safe. He also added that, on one occasion, he saw a homeless man doing drugs, only to pass out immediately afterward. He, along with other business owners, is not allowed to do anything. Although numerous requests and appeals were sent to the city officials, they did not do much to improve the situation. 

Dana Highfill, the owner of a therapy center, recounted being vandalized last year. Besides, she was forced to remove used needles and clean up feces. Both Kirby and Highfill agree that the entire situation is worsening and affecting their businesses. 

Even though she is concerned for her own safety, she is disturbed by the overall state of homeless people and wants a proper solution to be found. After all, they are all human as well and deserve to be treated accordingly. 

The Lack of Understanding

Part of the homelessness problem in Portland lies in the fact that the city authorities and experts don’t seem to agree on the subject. The police also have a hard time determining their function and discovering how to tackle numerous complaints. Namely, the Portland police does not have enough data to evaluate the officers’ interaction with the homeless efficiently.

One thing is sure — the growth of homelessness prevailed both local and national elections cycle in 2018. The candidates dealt with camping rules, street cleaning, sit-lie laws, as well as whether to utilize prisons as shelters.

During the previous three years, Portland voters accepted housing bonds and engaged in providing additional shelter beds. A bond measure would provide 2,400–4,000 units of economical houses in counties of Washington, Clackamas, and Multnomah. But although they sound promising, the measures are barely a slam dunk. What residents can positively look forward to is preventing the entire situation from worsening.

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