How Stabtown chose its candidates: The two-fold challenge of homelessness
We had one question at the forefront of our minds as we studied the races: Which candidates or measures would make Portland less stabby? By that we mean who would address both the long-term causes of homelessness and the short-term impacts of homelessness on the community.
Too many candidates and local elected officials come at homelessness only as a systemic problem with huge underlying causes.
They’re partly right. High rents are a part of the problem. People are being priced out of housing. We also have a less-compassionate society, at least in terms of providing the types of services that could help people off the streets and help even more never wind up there. Mental health services, treatment for substance use disorders and shelter space all are insufficient.
Every candidate and local politician has plans for addressing these problems. They want to increase the supply of affordable housing, though the mechanisms of how to do so might vary. They want to get more services out there, though again the how varies.
In the long run, some of that will work. But this hole we’re in was decades in the making. It will take years to climb out.
What happens in the meantime? That’s what too few candidates and elected officials want to discuss. While they’re busy implementing programs that will take years to have a meaningful effect on homelessness, Portland residents are suffering from the immediate impacts. Stabtown.com focusses on the stabbings, but there are also car break-ins, thefts, drugs, bicycle chop shops and other crimes. Campers have taken over public spaces, covered them with trash and caused unmeasured environmental damage. They’ve overrun our parks and trails, threatening and screaming at anyone who gets too close. Portlanders don’t feel safe walking in their neighborhoods. Some don’t even feel safe in their homes.
In just a few years, the homeless have turned Portland into a place that few people want to visit. We don’t want to invite family and friends here anymore because we’re so embarrassed and ashamed of what Portland has become. Who wants to take their parents on a walk downtown to Powell’s anymore?
No, not all homeless residents are that way. Maybe not even a majority. Many people living in a tent or car are one helping hand away from returning to work or stabilizing their life. Those are the ones that homeless advocates trot out every time they want more money or gin up public sympathy. The public sees the other ones, too, though.
Even if leaders could wave a magic wand and create abundant affordable housing and treatment programs, the fact would remain that many of Portland’s homeless are service-resistant. They want to ignore laws and to do their own thing; screw the harm it causes the rest of society. We’d still have hundreds, probably thousands on the streets stealing bikes and doing drugs. More would move here.
For those who enjoy metaphors, think of homelessness as a disease. The current crop of leaders and would-be leaders are focused on curing the disease. We need to do that. But we need to treat the symptoms, too. The rash and fever can be unbearable if it takes years to implement the cure.
Portland isn’t treating the symptoms because its leaders are afraid of offending the loud voices among the homeless advocates. Those leaders can’t bear being accused of not having enough compassion, and any sort of tough love or law enforcement is too much.
Portland needs leaders with political courage to stand up and work to make the city a better place in both the short- and long-term. Those are the candidates we sought in making our endorsements.