Guest Editorial - Understanding the Homeless Crisis in Portland (Part 2)
Permissive Public Policies Inadvertently Encourage Homelessness to Thrive
Have you ever asked yourself, “Why is Portland’s homeless crisis far worse than most other cities in the U.S.? Why is that? What is unique to Portland that makes the homeless crisis so out of control?
But before I can begin answering this question, I need to address three common misconceptions about homelessness. And in Part 1 of this series, I did just that. If you would like to know what they are, click on this link: Three Common Misconceptions About Homelessness.
Now to the question, “Why is Portland’s homeless crisis far worse than most other cities in the U.S.?” There are three reasons why we are in the mess that we are in.
1. Our permissive public policies inadvertently encourage homelessness to thrive.
2. Our compassion is actually enabling the homeless crisis to continue.
3. We are applying the wrong solution to the problem.
Today, I present the first of these three reasons: There are six public policies that inadvertently encourage homelessness to thrive.
1. No longer enforcing existing vagrancy laws.
The reason why we are supposedly not enforcing the existing vagrancy laws is the Martin vs Boise court ruling. This ruling prohibits cities from enforcing anti-camping ordinances if they do not have enough homeless shelter beds available for their homeless population. Bob Day is the former Deputy Chief of Police for the Portland Police Department. Mr. Day is no legal expert, but in his opinion, enforcing existing vagrancy laws can be done without violating this court ruling. And prior to COVID, the Portland police were doing so. So not enforcing existing vagrancy laws today is a policy decision, not because of trying to comply with this court ruling.
2. Lack of prosecuting property crimes.
Our law enforcement system is badly broken. In 2020, Portland was racked with 100 consecutive days of street protests in response to the murder of George Floyd. As a result, police officers retired in droves. Can you blame them? The City of Portland’s Police Department is now critically below the necessary staffing level to maintain law and order. This has resulted in focusing on prosecuting only the most egregious types of crimes like homicide and aggravated assault. Prosecuting property crimes is a much lower priority. So, the lack of prosecution encourages the fencing of stolen goods which supports an addict’s drug habit. They know there is little chance of jail time if in the unlikely case they get caught.
3. Normalizing assault when committed by the homeless, particularly against each other.
Again, this is most likely a result of a lack of sufficient numbers of police officers on patrol. Without a police presence, lawlessness flourishes on our streets.
4. Measure 110 decriminalized possession of hard drugs
Oregon Measure 110 in 2020 decriminalized possession of heroin, cocaine, meth and other hard drugs, changing possession to a misdemeanor with a $100 maximum fine. The measure was pitched to voters as a way to expand access to addiction treatment and recovery. In September of last year, the Oregon Health Authority admitted that the new law had “failed” (Their word, not mine). Instead of reducing drug use it has encouraged more drug usage by addicts living on the street. Measure 110 needs to be repealed.
5. Opposing the use of coercion to encourage the addicted to seek treatment.
There used to be a drug court in Portland. Offenders would go before a judge and the judge would give them two options: Get treatment or go to jail. Your choice. The use of coercion, i.e., jail time, helped many addicted to make the right decision to seek treatment. We no longer have a drug court. This needs to change.
6. Opposing the involuntary treatment of the mentally ill.
It is virtually impossible to treat the mentally ill without their consent, even though it is in their best interests to do so. Their individual rights supersede the rights of everyone else. This needs to change.
These six policies inadvertently encourage homelessness to thrive in Portland.
In my next newsletter I will present the second reason why homelessness thrives in Portland: Our compassion is actually enabling the homeless crisis to continue.
About the Author
Doug Marshall has been actively involved with the homeless in the Portland area for almost thirty years. In 2019 Marshall founded Hope for the Homeless Foundation. HHF objectively measures a nonprofit’s results in helping the homeless. Organizations that have a proven track record of successfully helping the homeless return to stability and become housed are provided financial grants through his foundation. For more information about HHF go to hhfpdx.org.