Whether you're playing in the park with your kids, taking your dog for a walk, biking around your neighborhood, or driving on the freeway, every Portlander is aware of our homeless citizens. Since 2004, when Portland committed to ending homelessness in 10 years, we have been treating it as a crisis.
For over a dozen years, Portland has tried "no camping," "sit-lie sidewalk," and "safe sleep" policies to control our homeless citizens. These frantic and scattered homeless policies have failed. The homeless crisis has ended; it is now a chronic condition that too many Portlanders are experiencing.
Homelessness, like politics, has caused Portlanders a lot of cognitive dissonance. If you believe everybody in Portland, 2016 has a chance to live a good life, it's gut wrenching when an aging parent or sick loved one loses their apartment to a costly upgrade or rental increase.
If you believe the homeless are good people having a hard time, watching them fight each other, start fires, destroy public land, and harass people challenges your faith in human decency. If you believe government and social services can serve the homeless well, you must know a new approach is desperately needed.
Whatever your beliefs, we surely can agree that the current situation is untenable and inhumane, which is why it's essential that our city leaders start treating our homeless like a blessing, rather than a scourge. The homeless sweeps, community meetings, along with neighborhood protests have become prosaic and ineffective.
At year 12 of our homelessness "emergency," our mayor believes Homer Williams, a multimillionaire developer, can shepherd us to a solution for the homeless crisis. Without any sense of irony, the mayor plans to scheme our sewer bills to fund Mr. Williams' well-intentioned and whimsical shelter epiphany. Striking a legally nebulous deal with a well heeled developer will do little to serve our homeless.
Developers and a booming real estate market have changed our city's skyline and transformed neighborhoods; Portland's commitment to helping the vulnerable must change, too. We need new ideas to adapt to our changing community. In a few months, Ted Wheeler will be our new mayor, and I hope he will renew our commitment by engaging citizens into serving, rather than just sheltering, our homeless.
A bold first step would be for Mr. Wheeler to transform the Office of Neighborhood Involvement into the Portland Corp, ala the Peace Corp. Portlanders are eager to lend their skill, compassion, and energy to helping the needy, but they don't believe sitting on committees, calling in complaints, or paying more for sewers constitute civic involvement. Portland Corp would provide on-the-ground opportunities for new high school and college graduate and even the homeless themselves to serve the needy. After operating in crisis mode, it is the ideal time for a new mayor to give Portlanders a chance to transcend involvement and get engaged in our ever evolving city.
The alternative is hustling Portlanders for another handout, which, as the homeless know, is never enough.