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SOCIAL ISSUES:
Homelessness

 



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Portlanders want homelessness addressed and do not want to see persist in the future.

Section Summary

There is no question that the issue of homelessness is a primary concern for Portlanders. The ways people express their concern and ideas to address the problem are varied. Some talk about feeling unsafe interacting with people experiencing homelessness that panhandle or that are in public spaces. Most people that speak of the issue, however, express compassion and understanding and would like to see the problem of homelessness confronted from this perspective.

People value the existing agencies that provide homelessness services, but some think there is a need for better-funded services that are comprehensive and innovative. Systems should be designed to offer people transitioning out of homelessness a sense of dignity and respect in where they live and how they are treated.

Summary of Main Ideas

  1. There is much gratitude expressed for agencies that serve people experiencing homelessness.
  2. An overwhelming number of people demand that more be done to end homelessness.
  3. The visible aspects of homelessness detract from Portland’s livability.
  4. A systems approach is needed to address the underlying causes of homelessness.
  5. Expansion of homeless services requires increased public and private funding streams.
  6. Community education is thought to be a paramount component to building awareness of the truths regarding homelessness.

Summary of Tensions and Disagreements

  1. What are the best measures to take to deal with homelessness?

MAIN IDEAS

  1. There is much gratitude expressed for agencies that serve people experiencing homelessness.
  • Generally, many people value the existing agencies that provide needed services to people struggling with homelessness.
  • Those who receive services attest to the fact that available service options and kind service providers make a tremendous difference in their lives.
"I value all the great services for homeless people downtown…There’s also some really nice places to live and they’re some really caring people working at those places. It makes me feel valued.”

“I was born and raised here in Portland. I was homeless for a month in 2000 (August) and am now in my third apartment. I value the places that you can go to get information on housing and other things.”

If you want to see God in action, come to Portland to see how well the homeless are treated and if you find yourself wanting to know what good will towards all men looks like, stop in at Rose Haven. Unforgettable experience!!”


  1. An overwhelming number of people demand that more be done to end homelessness.
  • One of the most resounding messages from the public was that homelessness is a major problem and that greater efforts need to be made to end homelessness in our community.
  • Portlanders who want to reduce the number of people experiencing homelessness call for a variety of different actions to be taken, including:
    • The creation of more comprehensive services that can address the inter-woven needs of vulnerable people on the brink of becoming homeless;
    • The expansion of day centers, hygiene facilities, and other basic needs services to help people stay healthy while they are experiencing homelessness (improving their chances of successfully transitioning back into housing or jobs);
    • Support people to develop strengths and skills through projects like workforce training;
    • The expansion of services to help homeless individuals transition into stable housing and jobs; and
    • More willingness in the community to hire homeless individuals, providing them with the income they need to obtain stable housing.
      § In addition to expanding services for all people who are homeless, Portlanders particularly want to expand the following types of services:
    • More shelters for single women, women with children and pregnant women who are not experiencing domestic violence;
    • More effective services for young people;
    • Services for elders; and
    • Services for single women on the brink of experiencing homelessness.
"Help homeless people find housing so they can get a decent job. I do not understand the no house, no job policy.”

“[I would like to see] Dignity Village vastly expanded and vitalized, drawing homeless from around the country and creating a vibrant, cohesive community that’s reintegrating people to the public sphere.”

"[In the future] all homeless people are in transitional programs or have transitioned out of them into affordable housing close-in, in safe neighborhoods where they are a part of a community that supports their transition and continued self-reliance.”

Sample Strategies:

  1. People not only want homelessness to be looked at through a multi-issue lens, but also want to see multiple sectors working together to comprehensively work toward ending homelessness.
  2. “Find a permanent location for Dignity Village. 24hour access to water, bathroom, laundry, bathing facilities with childcare and education programs.”
  3. Turn empty buildings downtown into homeless shelters.

  1. The visible aspects of homelessness detract from Portland’s livability.
  • Some Portlanders are primarily concerned with the visible aspects of homelessness, such as people sleeping on streets, panhandling, or resting in parks or near businesses.
  • Portlanders raise the following concerns about the presence of people experiencing homelessness in public places:
    • Some people feel unsafe walking on streets where individuals experiencing homelessness are sleeping or congregating;
    • Some people resent being asked for money and feel some people that panhandle do so in an overly-aggressive manner;
    • Others speak of feeling unsafe taking their children to Pioneer Courthouse Square, certain parks, or certain streets downtown because of the many people there that appear homeless;
    • Some people are concerned about the negative effects of homelessness on businesses, in particular, that customers will not patronize businesses if people experiencing homelessness are sleeping or standing nearby; and
    • Others are concerned about tourism, believing that homelessness will deter tourists from going downtown.
  • Portlanders with concerns about the visibility of homelessness generally advocate for removing people who are homeless from public areas, either by enforcing certain laws or providing them with other places to be.
"[I value] keeping the Waterfront free of the drug addicts and homeless people so we can all benefit from whatever it is that the Waterfront has to offer, be it walking, jogging, cycling, etc…”

“I would clean up downtown and the transit system. It is currently a blight and not a good showcase for our beautiful city. From homeless to street youth to mentally unstable, there needs to be a way to help those in need and make the downtown more welcoming for its visitors, dwellers, and daily workers.”

"We have so many agencies to help the homeless I’d like them to not pester people who are working downtown.”

Sample Strategies:

  1. Provide more temporary shelter space for the homeless, to get them off the streets and out of the public’s view.
  2. Create a special park for the homeless.

  1. A systems approach is needed to address the underlying causes of homelessness.
  • Portlanders want to see the community take a stand to prevent individuals and families from falling into homelessness in the first place.
  • Factors identified by Portlanders as contributing to homelessness include:
    • The rising cost of housing, which forces some people out of their homes or apartments;
    • The rising cost of healthcare and medical debts, which can also cause individuals to lose their homes;
    • The relative scarcity of family-wage jobs, which makes it difficult for families to keep up with rising costs; and
    • The reluctance of employers to hire certain types of people, including youth that have not finished high school, individuals with convictions, and people who are transitioning between different living situations.
“The homeless/panhandling issue needs to be handled in a comprehensive manner. Past history has shown that if there is a ‘crackdown’ on panhandling in one area, the panhandlers move to another. There needs to be a community-wide effort to understand and address the root causes of homelessness/panhandling. Are people on the streets because they are escaping violence in the home? Because of mental health issues? Because of lack of job opportunities? Find out why then create solutions.”

"We need more affordable housing! Some kind of rent control. Too many are homeless and many others are one missed paycheck (or condo conversion) away from the same fate. Owning a home is now out of reach for ordinary working people. Our housing supply should be managed to provide for people’s basic needs.”

“[In the future] All homeless people are in transitional programs or have transitioned out of them into affordable housing close-in, in safe neighborhoods where they are a part of a community that supports their transition…”

Sample Strategies:

  1. Increase the availability of affordable housing.
  2. Provide healthcare to all people.
  3. Help individuals at risk of becoming homeless develop strengths and job skills through programs like workforce training.

  1. Expansion of homeless services requires increased public and private funding streams.
  • Social services should coordinate and pool resources, but also have businesses and government supporting and collaborating with social services and other community organizations.
  • Portlanders believe that more funding should come from the local government, civic institutions and businesses to fill the gaps in services and for particular populations receiving inadequate support.
  • Some people urged Portland Development Commission to commit more funding toward affordable housing for people transitioning out of homelessness, and for groups like the aging population that can be at risk for homelessness.
  • Work toward ending homelessness and poverty through funding that is directed at initiatives that will resolve the root causes.

  1. Community education is thought to be a paramount component to building awareness of the truths regarding homelessness.
  • Many believe there should be more educational programs addressing public fear and stigmatization of people with no housing. Education programs can help the community better understand the underlying issues related to homelessness while alleviating unfounded myths.
  • People find it important to increase community support and understanding of the issues surrounding homelessness as a step toward alleviating the problem.
“[We get there by] looking beyond our comfort and placing ourselves in situations where we have to learn what it means to be a minority in Portland (homeless or ethnic) for starters.”

 


TENSIONS AND DISAGREEMENTS

  1. What are the best measures to take to deal with homelessness?

    There are two prominent themes that stand out for respondents who suggested ways to deal with homelessness. The first of the themes is centered on a concern for Portland’s apparent reputation for extensive homeless services. The “free handouts” such as food, clothing, shelter and other services are viewed by some respondents as unnecessarily attracting people that are homeless to come here from areas outside of Portland. Respondents that share this perspective tend to agree that the solution is not to increase funding to traditional homeless services. Instead they feel the city should develop more programs to help reintroduce people into the workforce or find ways other ways for homeless people to be productive, contributing members of society. Some respondents believe that more drastic measures should be taken that resort to criminalization of homelessness and relying more heavily on the justice system to get people off of the streets.

    The second theme has less to do with the concern for an influx of homeless people from out of town, but rather on the need to address homelessness on a broad scale. Some of these people are more concerned with changing policy to enforce an increase in affordable housing that more accurately reflects the numbers of people living without housing in the greater Portland area. Many respondents speak of the great work that social service providers are already doing, but that service efforts alone are insufficient. They recognize that the business sector, general public and the government all share a responsibility along with social services to meet the challenge and to find ways to work collaboratively. Respondents also speak to the complexities of homelessness and how the problem needs to be addressed comprehensively because it overlaps with other issues like poverty, mental health, joblessness and abuse.

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