The Portland Phoenix

Our Viewpoint: New mayor, new City Council face an old issue

On Monday, Dec. 2, a new mayor and one new city councilor take office in Portland.

Right out of the gate, Kate Snyder and the City Council will face a decision on the long-running controversy over how to improve services for the city’s homeless population.

This effort has been the subject of talk, task forces, editorials, investigations for at least five years. Residents of the city’s Bayside neighborhood have been wary of the concentration of services there, which is now an area of increased drug activity and street crime.  

In the past year, the city administration has unveiled several  proposals for new shelter locations, predictably drawing opposition from the neighborhoods selected. The current proposal to build a large service center in the outlying Riverton neighborhood has also drawn objections, and questions about the ability of clients there to access services downtown.

If the new council does not want to go forward with the Riverton proposal, we hope that the new mayor can unify the councilors to move quickly towards consideration of an alternative. The city can no longer keep punting on this issue.

And any action to help the homeless should depend on regional solutions, and a partnership with local nonprofits willing to step up and provide help. A solution is likely not going to be perfect, but the city should not accept the present situation in Bayside.

To keep procrastinating is always an easy choice, but is not a good option.  And the city needs to create incentives to increase affordable housing options.

Because of the city’s policy of not turning away people in need of shelter, Portland has become the place of last resort for many who are from outside the city. They include an estimated 30 percent who come here from out of state because of the city’s reputation of providing services.  If the city wants to continue that policy, it must provide the tools to work effectively with this population and get them into housing. 

The city should be proud of its reputation for taking care of the homeless. But it must devise a plan to provide services more effectively.

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