Mayor Hales on homeless: “We’ve made great gains”

Can he do a better job of getting people off the streets?

A homeless camp in Portland's Overlook neighborhood has nearly doubled in size in early December 2015. (KOIN)
A homeless camp in Portland's Overlook neighborhood has nearly doubled in size in early December 2015. (KOIN)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Portland Mayor Charlie Hales is in his last year of office after deciding not to run for re-election. He spoke with KOIN 6 News about some of the issues he continues to face, including whether or not he has a ‘grand vision’ for the city. KOIN 6 News also asked about his plans for the homeless problem in the coming year.

A homeless camp in Portland's Overlook neighborhood has nearly doubled in size within the last 2 weeks. (KOIN)
A homeless camp in Portland’s Overlook neighborhood has nearly doubled in size in early December 2015. (KOIN)

“That’s a big part of our focus and we’ve made great gains this year,” said Hales.

The mayor insists he’s making progress despite the number of people seen sleeping on Portland’s streets. In October, he declared a housing emergency, and the city opened a new emergency shelter for women and couples.

He has also announced a vacant building downtown will become a temporary emergency shelter for men.

Hales also touts his “A Home for Every Veteran Campaign” which the city also started last year. There are 700 veterans on the streets and Portland is finding 60 of them a home every month.

“We don’t have to have a situation where we’re in a position of saying ‘you can’t sleep there.’ And I can’t tell you where you can sleep. That’s not an acceptable answer,” Hales told KOIN 6 News.

The 2015 homeless count for Portland, Gresham and Multnomah County shows a mixed bag. There are 3,800 people homeless, but that number is the same as it was in 2013. The number of homeless women increased by 15% but the number of chronic homeless decreased by 17%. But to many Portlanders, it seems as if the homeless population is growing. Hales said that is partly due to the “visibility of it.”

“It used to be, what we call the Pearl District, used to be a rail yard and skid road. Nobody cared that much about what happened there. Now we have a lot of people living in that neighborhood, working in that neighborhood, shopping in that neighborhood. 20 years ago there were two retail businesses, north of Burnside, what we now call the Pearl District, now there are 450 fancy dress shops and restaurants. People are going to where the homeless always were, who didn’t used to go there.”

Hales is proud of the fact that the city has spent $67 million on affordable housing and renters protection. He says over the next year he wants to start a $20 million fund for shelters, rent assistance and housing placement. He also wants to move the Right 2 Dream Too encampment in China Town to a more permanent location.

Portland Mayor Charlie Hales, Dec. 29, 2015 (KOIN)
Portland Mayor Charlie Hales, Dec. 29, 2015 (KOIN)

Hales adds that Right 2 Dream Too is an example of why the homeless situation appears worse than it actually is. He said people living on the street are better equipped.

“They tend to have tents and tarps, not sleeping in doorways, more permanently encamped than they used to be, and that has increased the visibility of the same number of people we’ve had all along,” Hales said.

Hales would like to see the legislature give the city the power to require developers to include affordable housing in new developments.

State Treasurer Ted Wheeler, who is running for Hales’ seat, believes the homeless problem is getting worse, despite the numbers.

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