From PortlandOnline, May 6, 2008

Questions and answers about the protest at City Hall

Why are people protesting outside City Hall?

Most of the protesters are homeless individuals who are asking the City to provide more affordable housing, designate areas where people can camp and suspend the anti-camping and sidewalk obstruction ordinances. The protestors argue they have nowhere to sleep at night, and are forced to move by police who “sweep” their camping sites. They also feel that Portland does not have enough year-round shelter beds to meet the demand and that the beds that are available do not accommodate people with disabilities, couples and people with pets.

What is the City doing to respond to the protestors?

The City is working with Salvation Army to open additional and immediate shelter space for May and June. As of May 1, 12 additional “beds” for women each night are being provided by the Salvation Army SAFES emergency housing program. By mid-May, 70-90 additional “beds” for homeless adults will be provided at the Salvation Army Harbor Light facility. The Bureau of Housing and Community Development and the Mayor’s Office are simultaneously working on a plan to effectively address some of the current gaps in the homeless emergency system.

How long will the protesters be outside City Hall?

At this point in time, it is unclear how long the protesters will remain outside City Hall. One of their core concerns – increasing the availability of affordable housing – is a long-term problem without any easy solutions. Increasing the number of available shelter beds through May and June will provide some short-term relief, but not respond to the root cause of the problem. Their second demand – to end the anti-camping and sidewalk obstruction ordinance – is not acceptable to the Mayor. The Mayor has met with the protesters and will continue to work to find resolution to their concerns.

What is Portland doing to end homelessness?

In December 2004, the City of Portland and Multnomah County adopted a 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness. The plan was guided by three principles: 1) Focus on the most chronically homeless populations; 2) Streamline access to existing services to prevent and reduce homelessness; and 3) Invest resources on programs that offer measurable results. Three and a half years after its adoption, the plan has achieved the following successes:

* 1,286 chronically homeless persons are now in housing;
* 1,681 homeless families with children are now in housing;
* Approximately 85% of persons receiving housing were still in it after one year; and
* 710 units of permanent supportive housing have been opened with 298 more units in development.

How many homeless people are there in Portland?

A street count conducted in January 2007 estimated that 1,400 people sleep outside every night. This is probably an undercount, since it is very difficult to count homeless people. Around the country, an estimated 3.5 million men, women and children experience homelessness over the course of a year. On any given night, an estimated 800,000 Americans are without a home.

Why are so many people still sleeping on streets? Why not open more shelters?

The causes of homelessness are complex, but the lack of affordable housing and insufficient incomes remain significant reasons for the growing number of homeless people. The City has had great success over the first three years of the 10-Year Plan, but there is much left to do. One of the most successful tools in ending homelessness has been combining outreach and services to move people off the streets into permanent housing. Data shows that this approach works – over 85% of the people who have moved into permanent housing have successfully stayed in housing after one year. While there will always be a need for some emergency shelter beds – especially in severe weather – the City is focused on investing new money into permanent solutions. Shelters do provide short-term solutions for homeless people, but they are expensive and often do not meet the needs of people with disabilities, couples and people with pets.

Where do people currently sleep if they are experiencing homelessness?

The City has approximately 630 year round shelter beds and 2,951 transitional housing units that provide a range of services to youth, singles, families and domestic violence survivors. However, all of these systems have waiting lists. Without another alternative, many homeless people have been camping throughout the county. Outreach and engagement providers, police and homeless advocates have recently been responding to neighborhood concerns about camping in areas that have never had campers before.

The reasons for this increase in camps are complex: neighborhoods that were formerly tolerant of homelessness are less tolerant now because of redevelopment or because of the increased numbers of campers; out-of –the-way sites where people camped without notice, such as under bridges and overpasses are no longer accessible because of fencing; and the city’s sidewalk obstruction ordinance has moved some people out of downtown into the surrounding neighborhoods.

What can I do to help end homelessness?

Contribute your time and money to agencies that work on ending homelessness. Here is a link to some agencies that could use your help.