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'This is just common sense': Portland mayor signs order to streamline cleaning up trash

Mayor Ted Wheeler declared a state of emergency on trash, debris and waste piled up within the city.

PORTLAND, Ore. — An emergency declaration aimed at streamlining Portland's effort to clean up streets went into effect on Wednesday. 

Mayor Ted Wheeler signed the order and said the problems with trash, illegal dumping and graffiti have only gotten worse during the past two years of the pandemic. Through the emergency action, his office is activating the Public Environment Management Office, which will pull together all the city's decentralized cleanup services into a collaborative team.

"This is just common sense," said Wheeler during a State of the City address last week. "It puts one centralized command structure over 20 different city programs and eight different bureaus that are currently managed by five different members of city council."

According to the mayor's office, this is the fourth in a series of emergency declarations helping to address homelessness and livability issues in Portland. The latest action intends to improve cleanup of the city, unrelated to homelessness. It focuses on issues of trash, graffiti, illegal dumping, abandoned cars and other unsafe or unsanitary conditions across public spaces and interfaces. 

RELATED: 'It's ugly and I hate it': Businesses illegally dumping trash near Portland sanctioned homeless village

Some Portlanders told KGW that trash has been a problem for a long time and they remain skeptical over whether Wheeler's plan will make a difference. 

"It's a lot to take on. It's a huge project. We're not just talking one or two places," said Angie Toops, pointing out problem areas on Southeast Knapp Street. "They just dump it right here, or right here... it would be piles and piles and piles. It was disgusting. It was gross."

"[The mayor] decided we have an emergency trash situation. This should have been addressed the first day he was in office," said Todd Littlefield, who lives in the Lents neighborhood. "The city does not care. I've called the mayor's office three dozen times. I've talked to everyone in all those bureaus. These people they do nothing."

Sabine Urdes, the executive director of the East Portland Collective, said her team, and other groups like hers, have been working hard to address the problems by organizing trash pickups and working with everyone in the community. 

"It's more than just about picking up the trash and making it look pretty. It's about getting to know one another," Urdes said. "So many groups and so many people are already making good efforts, and doing a lot of community building in the process."

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