Wheeler: Long way to go on homelessness in Portland, but city ma - KPTV - FOX 12

Wheeler: Long way to go on homelessness in Portland, but city making progress

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PORTLAND, OR (KPTV) -

Mayor Ted Wheeler said there's a long way to go with tackling homelessness in Portland Friday but noted that the city is making significant progress.

Speaking to reporters, Wheeler said he gets stopped all the time by people who think he doesn't understand how serious this problem is and that the city isn't doing anything about it.

"’Is Portland worse off than other cities?’ ‘Is Portland really Tent City USA?’ I want to be clear, the answer is no," Wheeler said.

Wheeler said he brought together city bureaus and outside agencies to see what they could do to help when he took office nine months ago.

“Nine months is obviously nowhere near enough time to get the kind of results that ultimately I expect us to get, but it's undeniable we've also seen signs of progress," he said.

According to the mayor, there are now 1,600 shelter beds across the city and county, and emergency shelter beds have doubled in the last two years.

While the number of people who are homeless in Portland has gone up 10 percent in the last two years, Wheeler said the number of unsheltered has actually dropped by 12 percent thanks to the extra shelter space.

There are 2,000 affordable housing units in the pipeline, with another 1,300 coming thanks to a housing bond.

Efforts are also ramping up to clean up camps, tow abandoned RVs and cars and step up patrols by police and park rangers in areas known to be problematic.

"In the coming weeks, you're going to hear more about a couple of pilots we're interested in,” Wheeler said. “We get many, many calls in our office about human waste."

It’s certainly not a glamorous issue, but the mayor said he's considering programs for portable toilets, showers and even portable laundry units to reduce garbage and dirty clothing left behind at campsites.

What Wheeler said he needs now is a sustainable budget, pointing out the fact that, "increased shelter beds and other services obviously takes money."

Wheeler said he hopes to expand partnerships, especially with the private sector and business alliances. He said he also hopes to ask the state legislature for more funding for the Oregon Department of Transportation to address homelessness along freeways.

The mayor also wants to hear from residents to share their ideas to tackle the issue.

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