PORTLAND, Ore. -- Flanked by representatives from Multnomah County, the Portland Police Bureau, Portland Parks and Recreation, the Portland Business Alliance and other agencies, Mayor Ted Wheeler Friday afternoon held an unprecedented press conference at City Hall to give a comprehensive update on progress made addressing the city’s homeless crisis.
When asked directly, he admitted the issue was time-sensitive.
“Is Portland really Tent City, USA?” he said, referencing the name of KGW’s hour-long investigative special, set to air on KGW-TV Monday at 6 p.m. and online at tentcitypdx.com. “I want to be clear. The answer is no.”
He also referenced a poll KGW commissioned that showed more than half of city residents are dissatisfied with how both Wheeler and the police bureau are addressing homelessness.
Wheeler, who was interviewed for Tent City, USA, made the case Friday that homelessness is a regional issue, and Portland, he says, is making progress.
“We've placed more people into housing every year from 2,967 in 2014 to a record of 4,889 last year,” he said.
He also highlighted specific, geographic areas of improvement, including the city’s North Park Blocks and the Springwater Corridor, the latter of which was flooded with hundreds of campers a little more than a year ago.
This summer, those numbers were drastically reduced.
“The number of people who are unsheltered in our community, some call this the ‘visible homeless,’ has actually decreased by 12 percent,” he said.
That's according to Multnomah County's Point-in-Time count, which also showed the homeless population overall rose by 10 percent in the last two years.
The count, mandated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and released in June, shows more of the county’s homeless are now staying in shelters and other emergency housing.
By comparison, Seattle’s version of that count shows that city’s homeless population rose by 16 percent and that Seattle’s population per capita is bigger than Portland’s.
Mayor Wheeler said Portland’s initiatives to address homelessness need outside support.
“We will hold ourselves accountable for what we can control here in the city of Portland,” he said. “The truth is, I as mayor cannot solve this problem without real support from regional partners, from the state government and from the federal government.”
In the meantime, progress or not, the mayor confirmed that public perception matters.
KGW commissioned a survey from DHM Research as part of the Tent City, USA project that shows a majority of Portlanders are ‘somewhat’ or ‘very dissatisfied’ with Mayor Wheeler’s handling of the crisis.
It shows that one-third of Portlanders have considered moving out of the city because of homelessness.
“I'm, again, just being really honest. we get about six hundred calls a week,” said Mayor Wheeler. “They're mostly very angry calls.”