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Portland Mayor Asks the Next Oregon Governor to Declare State of Emergency Due to Homelessness

‘The magnitude and the depth of the homelessness crisis in our city is nothing short of a humanitarian catastrophe’ said Mayor Ted Wheeler

The mayor of Portland announced a number of major steps to address the city’s homelessness problem, including banning unsanctioned encampments and calling on the future governor for support.

“There is no issue more critical to Portlanders than addressing homelessness,” Mayor Ted Wheeler said during a press conference. “Those Portlanders who are unhoused and, on the streets, deserve our understanding, compassion, and help. The goal should be to connect people to whatever services they need to get off and stay off the streets.”

“The magnitude and the depth of the homelessness crisis in our city is nothing short of a humanitarian catastrophe,” he added. “We need to move our scattered, vulnerable homeless population closer to the services that they need.”

Wheeler will introduce five resolutions during a city council meeting on Oct. 26. 

This includes fast-tracking the construction of 20,000 units of affordable housing with a target completion date of 2033, improving gig and itinerant work so “more people can successfully participate in, benefit from, and advance in the labor market,” and connect homeless people with “sanitary, mental health, and substance abuse recovery services.” This will include banning encampments not authorized by the Portland government and redirecting homeless people to sanctioned campsites, emergency shelters and other alternative locations. 

The mayor also wants the council to take steps to establish a “services diversion program by offering people cited for low level offenses more opportunities to address pending legal issues and related collateral consequences outside of the criminal legal system.”

Finally, Wheeler will ask the city council to prioritize this initiative while setting the city budget and to request additional support from metro, county, state and federal partners. 

The council is expected to unanimously support the initiative. It is not clear how much the initiative will cost.

Additionally, Wheeler has asked that the winner of Oregon’s gubernatorial race to declare a state of emergency and support his efforts to address the homelessness crisis in his city.

“I need the governor-elect to ask the outgoing governor to immediately declare a statewide emergency declaration,” Wheeler said in a statement on Oct. 21. “No government agency in Oregon has more experience putting together temporary outdoor emergency shelter camps than the State. With the state’s help, we can get Portland’s designated sanctioned camping areas up before winter.”

According to The New York Post, “local officials note that homelessness is a major problem in Portland dating back years and only got worse since 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic, a housing shortage and high drug addiction rates have contributed to the crisis.”

Republican Christine Drazan has signaled she would declare a state of emergency if elected.

“We have among the highest numbers for homelessness and addiction with the lowest level of access to recovery services,” she said while speaking with Fox Digital News in August.

The Democratic nominee, Tina Kotek, has said the state will need to build 36,200 new homes each year for a decade to meet the needs of the homeless population.

We have to work with the folks who build the homes and say how do we make it easier for you, how do we make the permitting easier, how do we do the upfront money so you can get projects started,” she told KQW8.

As of May 2022, there were more than 6,600 homeless people in Portland’s metro area. Multnomah County, which includes Portland, reported an increase of over 1,200 people since 2019. Fewer than 700 of the more than 5,000 homeless people in the county are in transitional housing.

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