When discussing homelessness in the United States, people’s minds automatically go to cities like Detroit, New York, and San Francisco. But, even on the Visit Portland website, there is a page on homelessness.
What’s more is that Portland, Oregon, is the epitome of the complexity of homelessness in the US. When analyzing mental health in homeless populations, Oregon leads the United States with 35-40% of adults experiencing homelessness also suffering from mental illness. The population is violent and uncontrolled, which is the fault of the system rather than the people themselves. In the past, Portland initiated programs that promised to bus residents out to shelters for free, but most individuals who were homeless were lied to and ended up back in Portland fed up. To the homeless populations, the police and the government have failed their community with false promises.
One business owner was told, “don’t come with problems, come with solutions,” when she advocated for help for the population experiencing homelessness as her business was destroyed due to homeless violence. The first step is to deal with underlying conditions, such as addiction and mental illness, to start solving the issue. In the Old Town sector of Portland, with the largest concentration of people experiencing homelessness, there is so much addiction and trauma that homeless foundations struggle to provide people with the correct services. As issues worsened during the pandemic, another worker claimed the area resembled a “war-torn community.”
Scott, a man working at the Blanche House, a homeless services group providing food and services to people experiencing homelessness, proposed a plan that calls on all the homeless foundations in Old Town to work together. He believes that Old Town and peer support agencies should coordinate to ensure that people experiencing homelessness have a dedicated counselor, even with cross-foundation usage. He believes that building dedicated relationships with specific individuals instead of random interactions is key to creating a more positive relationship between everyone in the community. The hope is that the government views the community as kinder and is willing to spend more funding.
There is no way to scratch the surface of Portland homelessness issues. Currently, Portland is creating makeshift villages to give the homeless a sense of shelter. Yet, as much as this is progress, Portland needs long-term solutions. Many find it easy to vilify and segregate a population that comes across as ill and violent. However, people experiencing homelessness are still people, and Portland should treat them with this in mind. The city must do more than provide homes; it should offer those experiencing homlessness resources to improve their future in meaningful and sustainable ways.