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Hotel, restaurant owners help form Hotel Security District to address safety issues in downtown Portland

The effort is a response to recent challenges in downtown Portland around increased drug use and crime.

PORTLAND, Ore. — For many who work in downtown Portland, every day feels like a tale of two cities: hotel guests and special occasions flanked by a world of hurt.

"We notice around 7 p.m. in the evening, we start getting more of a gathering of individuals that are buying, selling and using drugs," said Gillian Duff, general manager of El Gaucho at the Benson Hotel at 309 Southwest Broadway.

Duff said she wants her employees and guests to feel safe in and outside of the restaurant both day and night.

"It is more and more critical by the day," Duff said. "We can't lose any more time in building back Portland to what it has been in the past."

It's a message echoed by dozens of other hotels and restaurant executives. In July, they gathered at the Nines Hotel for a Hotel & Restaurant Safety Summit

"With the fentanyl crisis and with organized drug activity downtown, the call from our hoteliers has been very clear: we need more help," said Mark Wells, executive director of Downtown Portland Clean & Safe.

Wells said some of that help may come in the form of increased Clean & Safe patrols in downtown's hospitality core.

"We're out there to ask for voluntary compliance, to triage situations, provide medical care," Wells said. "We've [administered Narcan] to over 75 people in the last year, that's over 75 lives that Clean & Safe have saved, so we're kind of serving as a triage or eyes and ears for the police."

Wells said Clean & Safe wants to add 14 to 15 public safety coordinators to double staff at night and on weekends. So far, $1 million in pledged funding would come from a combination of state, city, county, TriMet and private dollars. If all the pledged funding goes through, Wells said it should cover six months of increased Clean & Safe patrols. At the end of that time period, business leaders plan to meet again and consider what worked, what didn't and where to go from there.

"Once we know the money's coming, we can staff it up," said Wells, adding that the timeline "would be a matter of weeks, not months."

The formation of a downtown Hotel Security District was welcome news to The Oregon Restaurant & Lodging Association (ORLA). Greg Astley, director of government affairs with ORLA said the organization was pleased to partner with Downtown Portland Clean & Safe and the City of Portland for the recent Hotel & Restaurant Safety Summit.

"We applaud the Portland Metro Chamber for bringing numerous partners together to make this a reality," Astley said. "It's critical to the success of this effort that all stakeholders are part of the conversation to help solve the issues plaguing the city."

Wells said police will still handle violent crimes in progress. For that reason, some working downtown have questioned if more Clean & Safe patrols will really deter criminals. From Duff's perspective, she said she does see a difference and knowing stakeholders are backing the effort just fuels her resolve.

"Having their patrols increased is nothing but wonderful for us," Duff said. "I have worked and lived in downtown Portland for most of my life. I'm very optimistic. To me there is no other option."

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