PORTLAND, Ore. — Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler has announced a plan to create a central office to address homelessness in the city, tasked with overseeing and coordinating staff and programs across multiple bureaus.
“The Street Services Coordination Center will be the hub of the city's work around unsheltered homelessness and make us a much better partner to Multnomah County," Wheeler said at a press conference Wednesday morning.
Wheeler said he would issue an emergency declaration to create the office, which will oversee homeless services across multiple city bureaus in a structure similar to the type of emergency command center format that the city uses during floods and other natural disasters.
Portland's current efforts to address homelessness are siloed within separate bureaus, Wheeler said, and the city's government structure makes it difficult for staff on different programs to coordinate their actions to avoid doubling up or contradicting each other.
"Today's emergency declaration cuts through our antiquated form of city government," he said.
The central office will be able to know how many shelter beds are available on a daily basis and where they're located, Wheeler said, enabling members of the city's Navigation Team to more directly connect homeless Portlanders to services.
The team will also be expanded from five people to 25, he said, and will go out and meet with homeless Portland residents to offer services rather than waiting for residents to come and ask for help. Wheeler said he's also working to secure resources so team members can offer on-demand transportation.
The hub will be overseen by Mike Myers, who has previously served as Portland Fire Chief, director of the city's Bureau of Emergency Management and, most recently, the city's Community Safety Transition Director.
The order is timed to get the central hub up and running by the summer, Wheeler said. It will also coincide with the rollback of various pandemic safety measures as the omicron wave subsides. Those measures have hampered the city's ability to step up homeless services in the past two years, he said.
Emergency orders need to be renewed every two weeks to stay in effect, Myers said at the press conference, so the central office is not intended as a permanent structure, but he said it could be in place for months or even a year.
Wednesday's order is the third in a series of emergency orders Wheeler has issued in the past month to address homelessness, starting with a temporary ban on camping along freeways and high-crash streets in the city in response to a record number of homeless pedestrian deaths last year.
Wheeler later extended the order through March 4, and at Wednesday's press conference his staff said that a total of 10 sites had been cleared under the order, although some of those sites refer to large areas along particular stretches of road.
The second order focused on clearing out red tape and fast-tracking the process of getting Portland's Safe Rest Villages up and running. City Commissioner Dan Ryan announced that Wheeler had issued the order at a press conference last week when he revealed the final four locations chosen to be village sites.
The villages are a set of six city-organized sites that will provide services and transitional housing for about 50 homeless residents per site at a time. None of them have opened yet.
Wheeler and Ryan also announced a plan to ban camping within 150 feet of the villages once they're operational, citing the need to maintain a safe environment for village residents.
Wheeler's office also recently pitched other regional governments on a plan to create up to three 1,000-person homeless shelters, but the idea received significant pushback from other elected officials, and The Oregonian later reported that Wheeler was instead considering designated outdoor tent sites.
Speaking at Wednesday's press conference, Wheeler said the 1,000-person camp idea was "intended to generate discussion" about the scale of homelessness in Portland and the level of action needed to address it.
The various moves also come as the Oregon Legislature considers taking significant action on homelessness. Democratic lawmakers unveiled a proposed $400 million homelessness package last week.
Watch the full press conference: