Tourism soaring despite Portland's homeless crisis

Summer tourists and Portland's perception

PORTLAND, Ore. -- June 20 officially marks the first day of summer.

Our weather is perfect for it this week, and there are already a lot of schools out for the year. That also means tourist season is heating up.

But when families come here from the east coast, Japan, or Idaho, how much do they notice the problems that we see every day? Problems like homelessness, trash, tent camps, mental health needs, graffiti?

The Glenn family of four is headed back to San Antonio after days visiting here. And they have loved it, hitting up Powell's, restaurants and plenty of outdoor time.

"We went hiking, Forest Park, What else did we do? Lot of eating," said mom Alyssa Glenn as she, her husband and kids rolled their luggage down the street headed for the airport.

But something they did notice, pretty heavily around their downtown hotel, people sleeping on the sidewalks and panhandlers asking for money. They say Texas has some homeless, but there is much quicker enforcement and hotter temperatures keep the numbers down.

"We're here with our families, you want to keep them safe but you can definitely tell how lenient this city is," she said. "We saw people in tents in the middle of town, that's something we haven't seen before."

But Portland's homeless crisis doesn't seem to have deterred people from visiting the city. Travel Portland numbers show hotel room bookings, flights and tourist spending have shot up every year since 2012. And officials say we could be on track to hit a record high again this summer.

A high school graduation brought 18 family members from Hawaii to Portland for a visit.

"Portland is pretty good," said one.

"I like it," shouted another kid.

"I love it!" said another.

The first thing on their agenda? Of course, Voodoo Doughnut. It's all dessert, all the time for the kids.

"We're also going to go to, where's the ice cream place? Salt and Straw!" Lori Kushiyama said.

But take a drive with a tourist point of view from the airport to downtown, and you see trash lining the freeways. Up on the overpasses, more trash and tent camps for blocks. Take your kids to the food carts, and you pass by those less fortunate sleeping on the sidewalks. And yes, outside of our most visited doughnut shop, we watched as a patrol officer stopped to make sure a homeless man who passed out asking for spare change, was OK. Some visitors were shocked.

"It is a pretty big shock, there's a lot more homeless people than I assumed would be. I thought it would be every couple blocks but it's every block, especially in this area," said a young man visiting from Delaware.

Others say it's all relative.

"Many people are homeless like in Honolulu around all the streets," said a teenager from Hawaii. "You see plenty of homeless so it's kind of similar around here. It's pretty normal."

David Berlin, visiting from Philadelphia, says Portland's flaws don't stick out too much to him. 

"I don't see as many as I do in Philadelphia because I walk a lot in Philly, but there hasn't been too many blocks here where I haven't seen someone sleeping or with a sign," Berlin said.

Travel Portland says more concrete summer tourism predictions will come out on Wednesday. The agency is starting marketing campaigns in cities like Minneapolis, Phoenix and San Francisco. Officials say we're getting a lot of international tourists because of Forest Park and the Rose City's restaurants as well.

© 2017 KGW-TV


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