Travel Portland: Visitors see city's homeless crisis

Tourism leaders: Visitors see city�s homeless

PORTLAND, Ore. -- It’s no secret.

When searching for visitors in Portland, head straight to Voodoo Doughnut, a place where first impressions of Portland and its homeless crisis were forming fast.

Canada native Jasmine Geschke, for example, had only been here for an hour.

“Two homeless people came up to us in the last hour and were like 'Can we have some money?'” she said.

Nine-year-old Las Vegas native Kayla Young had only been in Portland for two hours but had already seen, “a bunch of people with dirty sleeping bags and torn up tents.”

Related: Inside Portland's emergency shelter for homeless families

Heads of Portland’s Business Alliance said Friday that images like those were the least of their concerns.

This week, they tallied up trash left downtown by the homeless, including dirty needles.

In 2012, staff at Downtown Clean & Safe collected 2,817 needles. By 2015, that number had skyrocketed to 8,220.

That’s on top of 20,306 pieces of drug paraphernalia, 31,472 bags of trash, 41,291 “biohazards," which includes human waste, and 3,092 used condoms.

Tourism leaders say visitors see it all.

“They're frightened by some of what they see... drug use, blatantly on the streets, the very aggressive street behavior,” said Jeff Miller, CEO of Travel Portland.

What’s worse, he says, is that tourists talk, especially on sites like Trip Advisor.

One recent visitor wrote that the Pearl Distirct was filled with “aggressive panhandlers who made us very uncomfortable as we were with our young kids."

Another said “I don’t see the charm or hipness in stepping over homeless people.”

Miller added he and owners of local hotels are hoping to meet with Mayor Hales next month. The pressure is on, he says, as Portland’s peak tourism season is fast approaching.

Reps for Mayor Hales’ office confirm a meeting is scheduled, adding they’re working as fast as they can, enforcing new camping laws and searching for shelter space.

Related: Police begin to move homeless out of Portland parks

The goal, they say, is to keep tourists happy and to prepare for that annual boost in Portland’s homeless population.

“We also have this population that comes in the summer that moves up and down the corridor; a lot of people call them the 'summer travelers’,” said Josh Alpert, the mayor’s chief of staff. “Our hope and anticipation in creating the new system that we've unveiled is that it will make it easier to identify who those folks are when they come in so we have earlier contact with them.”

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