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Has Tolerance Made Portland Intolerable?

The homeless population in Portland, Oregon has always been a problem but recently the population has increased, with homeless camps popping up throughout the metro area.  Specifically along the Springwater Corridor and the Right to Dream Too camp located in Old Town/China Town.  While on a walk through Old Town and parts of downtown I began to take photos of the homeless I encountered. They appear to have taken over the city, with the City of Portland doing little to nothing to mitigate the issue.  I often see the police walk by individuals and small groups of homeless loitering on the sidewalks with indifference.  They appear to be ignoring the problem, like most of the public who live, work and visit downtown, and will only engage if safety or legal issues arise.  The population can be broken into groups which would include the following.

  1. Mental Illness

  2. Drug/Alcohol Addiction

  3. Financial Issues, or simply

  4. Choose to be homeless

By no means is this a complete list and I'm sure there are other circumstances.  However, I do know that most of the issues listed above can be minimized and/or mitigated with social services.  There’s a plethora of social services available in the area such as The Blanchet House and the Portland Rescue Mission.  I also understand that there is not a single solution to the homeless problem in Portland or any other city in the United States.

Typically on my morning bike commute I see an elderly homeless gentleman slowly walking his heavily loaded beach cruiser up Barber Boulevard in Southwest Portland.  Riding a bike is a great way to think about the problems that need my attention, typically I’m solving problems at home or at work. On this particular day I noticed this elderly gentleman.  I'll call him George.  As I rode past George, I wondered if he was old enough to be eligible for social security benefits.  Regardless, are there mechanisms in place for someone like George to collect benefits to help get him off the street?  If no, I think this something that needs to be explored.  I'm sure the other homeless that meet the criteria I listed above, at least items one through three, could also be helped by social services already in place.  Maybe I’ll explore the social service mechanisms already in place in a future blog entry.

What about the last category on the list? The people who choose to be homeless.  Portland is known world wide as a tolerant progressive city.  Portland welcomes all walks of life, and with the recent intolerant attacks on the MAX train over Memorial Day Weekend, we also don't tolerate those who spread hate and intolerance, which I agree with.  Many times I hear the phrase, "It's Portland," when someone is explaining something typically seen as out of the norm or weird (Keep Portland Weird).  However, I feel that our tolerance has hindered our ability to deal with the homeless issue in Porltand.  We can provide services to most individuals, but cannot help the individuals who choose to be there.  They don't want to be helped and, from what I've seen, tend to want to take a free ride at society's expense.  A free ride that is being funded by those of us who are tax paying and contributing members of society.  I'm not sure what the answer is, but I think we need to ask ourselves the following. 

Is it time for us to stop tolerating this behavior?

Is it time to make loitering, camping, and sleeping in the public right-of-way illegal?

I don't have the answers or know what the solutions are but I think a place to start is for us to stop tolerating intentional homelessness and the socioeconomic impacts associated with it.  Some of you reading this blog will find my stance harsh, but the current methods are not working and I feel its time for a new direction.  The homeless problem, regardless of geography, is a tough issue and will require hard solutions.

Andrew BauerComment