Wheeler: Homelessness is ‘humanitarian crisis’

Ted Wheeler held a press conference Friday

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, May 1, 2017 (KOIN)
Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, May 1, 2017 (KOIN)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Mayor Ted Wheeler defended City Hall’s actions in dealing with the homeless in Portland, calling it a “humanitarian crisis unfolding in our streets.”

He also said the number of people living on the street has gone down but there are still thousands living in tents, RVs and on the sidewalks.

Wherever he goes, he said Friday, he gets an earful from Portland citizens about the homeless situation. At a Friday news conference the mayor admitted it’s a huge issue and it won’t disappear overnight.

He laid out what city leaders are doing to chip away at the homeless crisis, pointing to nearly 5000 people that moved into housing last year. Wheeler said Portland is among many cities working to solve the homeless situation that grows worse through drugs and rising rents and home prices.

KOIN 6 News found evidence the city is working to clean-up the abundance of so-called zombie RVs the homeless use to camp out in neighborhoods.

In Southeast Portland, KOIN 6 News found an RV leaking sewage, parked for weeks in a neighborhood. The occupant wouldn’t fix it, so the RV is getting towed to a city lot, one of 120 RVs towed so far this year.

As for finding more ways to pay for affordable housing, Wheeler said he supports a developer’s offer to build affordable housing in exchange for allowing skyscrapers along the city’s waterfront.

“They are seeing an opportunity to get what they want in terms of increased height in exchange for a public good that we very much need in this community,” Wheeler said. “So I support it.”

While the city is working on more shelters and getting more affordable housing built, Wheeler said there needs to be more services to help those on the streets like mobile bathrooms and laundry services.