Mar 13, 2024 - News

New plan aims to reduce homelessness in Portland

Illustration of a pile of suitcases on a cot.

Illustration: Lindsey Bailey/Axios

Multnomah County and Portland leaders have launched a new plan to combat homelessness with the goal of finding housing or shelter for about 2,700 people — half of the people estimated to currently be living outside — by the end of 2025.

Why it matters: Portland's visible unhoused crisis is getting worse but the county and city say they are working together to solve it.

The details: County Chair Jessica Vega Pederson and Mayor Ted Wheeler introduced their plan to the media on Monday. In addition to increasing the number of people with shelter, they hope to add 1,000 shelter beds in two years and add hundreds more behavioral health beds.

The 44-page draft plan recognizes many types of homelessness and acknowledges different ways to help people move into housing and stay in it.

  • The plan considers offering behavioral health care and investing in Portland Street Medicine. One new goal is to stop all health system discharges of people with nowhere to go, by the end of 2025.

The intrigue: The document provides some concrete initiatives including the launch of a process to award $600 million in state funding for new affordable housing (including supportive housing), which the Legislature approved last year.

  • Additionally, the plan seeks to identify 20 commercial buildings in central city for potential housing conversion (12 have been identified so far).

What they're saying: "I certainly applaud the ambition because I think we need to be thinking big and not nibbling around the edges," said Scott Kerman, the executive director of Blanchet House, a social services organization.

  • Kerman said the group saw a 27% increase in demand for free meals last year, which are mostly served to people living on the streets of Portland.

Friction point: Wheeler said the new plan offers a hand to help people get off the street, but he also offered a cautionary note.

  • "For those who are offered help and do not seek it, I have minimal patience, and perhaps a lack of empathy," told reporters."And the rules today, as always, are you can't just pitch a tent wherever the heck you want."

What we're watching: Community feedback is welcomed at a virtual town hall at 7-8pm on March 21.

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