Solving homelessness requires more than programs and political rhetoric; it requires vision where homelessness is seen as a humanitarian crisis that affects everyone in our communities.
Our elected officials continue to invest tens of millions of dollars into programs, touting the tremendous progress the city has made helping people get back into housing. But, their data points, analysis, and reports fail to tell the real story of what citizens and officers see on our streets and in our neighborhoods.
More than any other segment of the community, our members – the rank and file of the Portland Police Bureau – encounter persons suffering from homelessness and the forces that prey upon them every hour of every day. We are at the frontline of first responders in situations where people find themselves desperate, injured, traumatized, and victimized in a society where behavioral and mental health problems, opioid use, and homelessness continue to rise.
Our citizens increasingly call 911 regarding individuals experiencing a mental health crisis, homelessness, and out of concern for those most vulnerable in our society. There is nothing compassionate and caring about relegating people to sleep on our streets. The situation in Portland is absolutely demoralizing.
We all recognize that the causes of homelessness are complicated and multi-faceted. And, we must look at solutions that are out of the box, person-focused rather than program-focused, and with a sense of urgency equal to the crisis at hand.
An idea that the Portland Police Association has long supported – using Multnomah County’s failed Wapato facility as a Restoration Center and social service hub for those experiencing homeless – has been revitalized. The new owner, prominent real estate developer Jordan Schnitzer, Multnomah County Commissioner Loretta Smith, and social service provider Maura White held a press conference last week where the media had a chance to walk through the facility and see the opportunity first-hand.
Mr. Schnitzer, Ms. Smith, and Ms. White expressed that Wapato could provide viable, hope-filled options for those experiencing houselessness, first as an emergency shelter with over 500 beds and long-term with a Restoration Center model that includes embedded social services. We share in that vision of making Wapato a place to celebrate our commitment to those most in need. And we offer our help in making it a success for our neighborhoods, citizens, and the guests of the Restoration Center.
Over the past year, I’ve had several conversations with leaders of neighborhood organizations, neighborhood groups, and residents of Portland who want to address the livability issues in our communities in a compassionate and sustainable way. A restored Wapato facility will certainly not solve all the issues surrounding homelessness, but it is one viable solution and a beginning to the process.
People should never shiver in the cold or endure mental illness and addiction alone on our streets. Those who need resources should have a clear path to stability. And people who endanger or victimize others should be held accountable for their actions. Our homelessness crisis and the dangerous conditions we see on our streets every day are failures of public policy and enough is enough. We can do better. And, our communities deserve better.
Daryl Turner, President
Portland Police Association