PORTLAND, Ore. — Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler delivered the annual State of the City address at noon Friday, discussing the city's struggles with homelessness, gun violence and mental health.
The address was scheduled to be followed by a Q&A moderated by Rukaiyah Adams, chief investment officer at Meyer Memorial Trust, but the forum had to be cancelled because Adams tested positive for COVID-19 and could not attend. The City Club of Portland, which hosted the event, said that it would organize a new forum in the coming weeks.
Wheeler's address comes at a time when the city is facing widespread public frustration with multiple crises including homelessness, gun violence and traffic accidents, and many of those issues were at the core of his speech, echoing the talking points at a press conference one day earlier where he outlined his budget proposal for the coming fiscal year.
Wheeler began his address by directly expressing the hope that Portlanders will vote to change the city's form of government in November, arguing that the existing system significantly hampers the city's ability to grow and meaningfully address the challenges it faces.
He referenced the release earlier this week of a Point-in-Time count of the homeless population in the Portland region, showing 6,633 people living without a home in the tri-county area as of Jan. 26.
Wheeler announced a new emergency declaration in the speech that he said would similarly streamline the work and programs aimed at cleaning up parts of the city outside of occupied homeless camps.
More emergency declarations will be announced in the coming weeks, he said, including declarations that will address gun violence and other crimes.
He also discussed the staffing challenges at the Portland Police Bureau, highlighting a planned threefold expansion of the city's unarmed public safety staff, which he said would help free up sworn officers to focus on more urgent calls.
He promised more action on affordable housing, noting that the city faces an affordable housing gap of more than 20,000 units and declaring that "affordability must be Portland's next moonshot."
Wheeler closed the speech by raising the issues of drug abuse and mental health, and said that he was making a "desperate plea" for state lawmakers to put the issue front and center during the 2023 legislative session.
“While Portland the place is worth fighting for, what is most important to remember is that it can only happen if Portland’s people are taken care of," he said.