Very well said, John Elizalde! I have something to add to the voluntary vs mandatory debate. It doesn’t have to be either San Quentin or anything goes. The key to the shelter strategy is diversity. Everything from motel rooms for the infirm and at risk to micro landing campsites to large shelter/rehab facilities like Bybee Lakes Hope Center to parking lots for campers to mini house villages to large temporary/emergency shelters (especially in bad weather). The goal should be to provide enough options so that our unhoused neighbors can make a choice that is right for them. The community will have done its part by providing enough options to meet the needs of the unhoused. At that point the community would be well within its rights from a legal and moral position to forbid ad hoc camping, which is both unsafe, unsanitary and a bad choice for all parties, especially the unhoused. Ultimately we all have to make a choice where we live. Given that we have yet to discover the secret to a utopian society, everyone will not have equal choices. But in my mind society has no obligation to grant a person the choice to live in an unsafe and unsanitary location that is harmful to both the individual and the community at large. In fact society has an obligation to make sure this does not occur.
Is A Shelter for Everyone too great a challenge for the people of Portland? Was putting a human being on the moon too great a challenge for the US in 1968? Was building what FDR called the Arsenal of Democracy too great a challenge for US to defeat Hitler in WWII? Was public ownership of the Pacific coastline too big a challenge for Oregon? Was the creation of Waterfront Park and the East Bank Esplanade and the Chinese Garden too great a challenge for the city of Portland? To win the war on homelessness is a big goal, which will require many people stepping up to the plate in many ways. It will require elected leaders who think big and are willing to use their bully pulpit to inspire us. Practically speaking, it will require us to spend the Metro 26-210 money wisely and place far greater emphasis on those who are living unsheltered in our community. And government alone cannot solve the problem. It will require the private sector to step up in a big way. But this is possible. Portland and other west coast cities not only have the greatest homelessness problems in the country. They also have some of the most progressive populations and the most successful businesses in the country. There is a saying that great ideas don’t fail for lack of money. A dynamic Portland plan will surely entice the Amazons and the Apples and the Nikes and the Columbia Sportswears and the Microsofts to step up to the plate. If Phil Knight gave $500 millions and $125 million to OHSU to fight cancer and cardiovascular disease, what would he and others give to fight the battle of our generation, homelessness?
And the problem goes far beyond shelter. The national investment in high rises did not alone solve the problems of poverty and crime in the inner cities in the mid 20th century. The solution begins with people. We will need to do a far better job addressing the mental health and addiction challenges that our people face. Equally important, will need to help our unhoused neighbors connect to the world of work, as it is job skills, employment and self sufficiency that ultimately build pride and dignity in human beings. It will require a brigade of community organizers to assist our houseless neighbors in setting up self governing communities that are capable of improving the quality of life for their residents.
Homelessness is a humanitarian crisis that holds a death grip on Portland and communities around the country, particularly on the west coast. But we can beat homelessness, Portland, and if we succeed, it will become a model for the rest of the country.
Thanks, John, for issuing the challenge!
I'm thinking there needs to be a blending of ideas swirling here.
A. expand existing villages where possible and soon. Need a team doing that now.
- Land: the city has land and is unable to make decisions about freeing it up for the houseless. There is too much turf, bureaucracy and inertia and we have so many examples of that in practice.
- Land: Private entities have land and are likely to have liability and clean up concerns. Solve this and then see #10.
- Liability: we'd need the city/county to assume liability, no small ask.
- Residents: Mandatory = incarceration in the minds of many = DOA. Voluntary = site would need to be attractive to potential residents. And, we really don't want to spend a year or two conducting a survey of potential residents to find out they'd prefer a hotel room and won't go to a remote, hard to get to and hard to escape gravel lot on some windswept desert. We have enough coalition folk who have lived or living experience with what would make a site attractive. Seems a key is that it would need space for current campsites where people already know each other and have a sense of relationship to relocate easily, safely with the assurance that their posse is going to be together in the new place.
- Self-governed: yes, and with a new model: A large space, capable of housing a hundred or more residents who self-divide into pre-existing camp-groups would need an operating model where each camp-group participates in the governing structure. Lots of expertise in town for such a system.
- Hygiene/sanitation: Here is where the private sector steps up. The money wars in city/county structure won't be able to spit out enough cash to support these necessities. Perhaps the CARES money or the 26/210 money could be freed up - perhaps. And, with the Joint Office being thrown under the bus this week who is going to bet on speedy city/county funding from any source?
- Food: Here is the 'attractive piece'. Why move with my current neighbors into another spot? To have a toilet, shower, garbage service, no sweeps, rules you helped write and 3 meals a day. Here is where the private sector and community writ large steps up. Feel free to charge a few bucks a meal with vouchers given to those who do work (hmm, where have a heard of this?).
- Bottle return: this seems like a necessity for people struggling for cash who have established a proven ability to collect and cash in cans.
- Social Services: provide space for willing agencies to apply their hard won city/county funding to these clients.
- Day to day management: There are many agencies capable of doing this once the money is solved.
- Transportation: very tough question given that open land and such services are not always coincident.
- Money: solve this and get out of the way as there is energy, passion and expertise aplenty to make this happen.
Everyone reading this will recognize that nothing here is new or even very remarkable. We need a team to find the land and a team to crack open the piggy bank. ONWARD
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