On February 16, the Portland Business Alliance released its annual State of the Economy report. The overall sentiment of Portland’s economic state is grim, due to a worsening affordability crisis and a poor reputation.
One of the biggest areas of impact is the 73% decrease in foot traffic downtown. Contributing factors to this decline are the lack of office workers in the downtown area due to the pandemic, crime, and the increasing number of homeless citizens camping in the area.
Currently, there is a 25% vacancy rate in offices downtown, but many developers say their office tenants are bringing their employees back to the office by the end of March. However, a hybrid model is most likely going to be the ongoing trend moving forward.
That means that in order to revitalize the downtown economy, a bigger push to bring visitors – shoppers, diners, museum-goers, etc. – will be necessary. However, major concerns about public safety and unsanctioned camping need to be addressed. The overwhelming majority of Portland residents want the city to do something about the campsites, which also requires getting homeless people the help that they need.
City Commissioner Mingus Mapps said that “the foundation of recovery is increasing the number of public safety officers as quickly as possible, investing in transitional shelter beds with behavioral health resources, enforce current camping ordinances, and continuing to increase trash pickup resources.”
The city has tried a variety of tactics to address the homeless crisis, and in November, Portland and Multnomah County leaders said that they planned to spend more than $38 million on homelessness services, including shelter beds and cleanup services.
One idea, proposed by former mayor and now senior adviser to Ted Wheeler, Sam Adams, suggests creating up to three massive, temporary homeless shelters, which would be staffed by unarmed Oregon National Guard members and graduate students in social work programs at Portland State University.
The concept is a stop-gap measure that would transition up to 3,000 people to giant group shelters for approximately 3 years, until revenue from a recently approved homeless services tax flows into local coffers.
This bold plan has come up against significant opposition, with homeless advocates saying this plan would criminalize and further traumatize the city’s homeless population.
The common agreement among policy-makers and citizens alike seems to be that the city needs to address the safety issues caused by unsanctioned camping, and that it is a critical component to revitalizing the downtown area and improving the city’s economy. Yet, as has been the case in the past, opposing parties are once again at an impasse on the best way to do so.
What are your ideas about how to address public safety concerns about unsanctioned camping? Share below!