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.

From, May 1, 2008

Protests at City Hall

The following is a statement from Mayor Potter on the protests occurring outside Portland City Hall:

If you have come downtown in the last week, you may have noticed that a group of homeless individuals have been protesting outside City Hall since the weekend. Here is why they are here and what the City is doing to address their concerns.

First of all, it is important for Portlanders to respect these individuals’ First Amendment right to make their voices heard. As long as the entrance to City Hall is not blocked and conditions remain sanitary and safe, they have a right to be here and to make their concerns known.

The group is protesting recent police “sweeps” under the bridges and the inner Eastside. Police “sweeps” are designed to stop illegal camps where drug use and unsanitary conditions threaten those living in them.

Portland currently has more than 400 shelter beds for homeless adults and 300 for people in families. But these shelters are full every night, and more than 1,400 people sleep on our streets. While the City and Multnomah County’s 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness has made great strides, moving 1,286 homeless individuals and 1,682 homeless families into permanent housing, there still is not enough affordable housing for everyone who needs it.

Unfortunately, given the tightening economy, and the current competitive rental housing market, the number of homeless is likely to increase and the pressure on housing and homeless resources will remain challenging.

I do not know how long the protest will continue, but here is what the City is doing to help:

We’ve asked a social service agency to interview the protesters so we will have real data on their specific circumstances, needs and concerns.

We will reopen temporary winter shelters for men and women for the months of May and June. Housing experts tell us that permanently opening shelters in not a good idea because clients too often don’t make the transition to permanent housing once they enter the shelter system.

We’re exploring how to increase the utilization of rental vouchers.

I ask all of you to be courteous to the campers, as they should be to you in return. If you experience any problems, please feel free to contact me at