Ted Wheeler announces emergency declaration for homeless crisis

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Published: Mar. 2, 2022 at 4:31 PM PST
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PORTLAND, Ore. (KPTV)- Homeless camps have been an issue for quite a while. On Wednesday, Mayor Ted Wheeler announced his third emergency declaration in two months aimed at easing the homeless crisis in Portland.

Wheeler says even though there are a lot of effort to help people get off the street, things aren’t getting better to the degree that they would like to see.

Mayor Wheeler is now creating the Street Services Coordination Center that will quickly offer people shelters, transportation and other services. But the he said funding is still a problem.

“What I’m focus on right at this moment is acknowledging that people are dying on our streets by the dozens,” said Wheeler. “We would use resources that come our way to specifically to get people out of squalled and dangerous conditions on our streets.”

Some camps can be dangerous because of their location or because of activity taking place. That was the focus of Wheeler’s first declaration. The focus on the second, was to expand shelters and limited services, and the third is to create a center that will offer transportation and to make it easier for local city bureaus to provide services to those experiencing homelessness.

“This has been in the works in some form or other, I’d say, the last year. There’s a lot of lead work that had to go into this,” said Wheeler. “Funding had to be established, there were conversations we had to have with agencies and county partners.”

With the new center, they will be able to do a few things…

  • Know how many shelter beds are available and where those shelter beds are located on a daily basis.
  • Expand from five navigation team members to 25 teams to find camps or dangerous areas and offer critical services.
  • Make real time offers to people on available beds on any given day.
  • Create navigation teams people can call for an ‘on-demand’ ride to a shelter along with their belongings.

The work will fall on city staff whose work brings them face to face with people on the streets. Community Safety Transition Director, Mike Myers said he has a solution.

“Often times, people have 40-hour week jobs, they have current duties they’re working on. Often, they’ll have to shift some of their duties directly to the structure to work as a team. Many of these bureaus are already working on these issues, in their own silos often competing against each other, not working together. My interest is to create assistance to these bureaus to allow them to realign under one command structure. I think it will reduce the amount of work- load for the bureaus and make our solutions more streamlined,” said Myers.

Wheeler said now is the time to make homelessness a priority.

“We have been under COVID restrictions for the last two plus years. That has greatly limited our approach around homelessness. Now that COVID has started to be in the review mirror, there is an opportunity here that I do not want to miss,” he said. “We know homelessness gets worse as the summer months approach. I want to make sure the city is well positioned to address the crisis on our streets at the scale necessary.”

This solution is not meant to be permanent. If it works, it could eventually operate under the city and county. Wheeler says he hopes to implement the new center by this summer and probably won’t see results of the new center for a few months.