PORTLAND, Ore. — It's hard to deny that downtown Portland has been through a lot the past few years. And part of what has caused a spike in concern about crime and safety is the desperation that comes with an ever-present homeless population.
As the city and county grapple with finding the right combination of solutions, Multnomah County Chair Jessica Vega Pederson announced a plan that takes the time to get people into the right type of housing before clearing camping areas permanently.
“And we're calling it ‘Housing Multnomah Now’, because that's really what it's about, it's about getting people who are living outside, living unsheltered, directly into housing,” said Vega Pederson.
She announced the $14-million plan this week during a taping of Straight Talk with Laural Porter.
Pederson explained how she and other local leaders visited Seattle to see a similar effort, where outreach workers spent weeks getting to know people and their needs, in order to match the right kind of housing and support.
“And we're going to do this in a similar way, by targeting an area in the central city; we're also looking to do it in east county within this next calendar year,” said Vega Pederson.
The plan comes as the latest annual survey for the Portland Business Alliance shows a slight improvement in voter sentiment about the direction of the region, from 2021 to 2022.
Those who think things are on the wrong track dropped ten percentage points to 52% of respondents. And 8-percent more think we're going in the right direction compared to the 2021 survey. But that percentage is only 24%. Which is better but still in negative territory overall, said John Horvick, sr. vice president at DHM Research, whom conducted the survey.
"Things either leveled out or improved, and we'll just have to monitor and do good work as a community to see if those numbers improve or they move in a negative direction again,” said Horvick.
Vega Pederson is banking on this new direct-to-housing plan being part of heading in the right direction.
“It's doing it in a way that I think supplements and complements work that we're already doing with our shelters, with our alternative shelters, even with the city’s proposal around urban campgrounds."
Vega Pederson said this will be a collaborative effort with all stakeholders who have been meeting in order to get the the plan in action soon.
In terms of ending homeless camping in these areas long-term, that will be a challenge. Vega Pederson said it will take the support of everyone, including private landowners, to make it work. She's also getting people into housing that works for them, which will also make a difference.
“One of the main goals about this… is to make those connections into housing so they're not just being swept from one location to another location,” said Vega Pederson.