Old Town revitalization seeing progress, but work is still far from over

Published: Jun. 13, 2022 at 5:35 PM PDT
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PORTLAND Ore. (KPTV) - The Old Town Community Association announced Monday, positive progress in their mission to clean up and revitalize their neighborhood.

In March of this year, neighborhood leadership launched a “90-day reset” of Old Town to clean up the streets, get the unhoused into shelters, and improve overall safety. Monday was the 90th day and the chair of the Old Town Community Association, Jessie Burke, presented encouraging numbers. She said there are now 64 percent fewer tents in the neighborhood than three months ago. There are now 92 new beds for the unhoused, with 43 already filled. Nearly 19,000 square feet of graffiti have been removed and there is a crew of three people with one truck, tasked daily with picking up garbage.

But for some neighbors, like Candee Wilson, progress is not happening fast enough.

“Jessie Burke is a human dynamo. She is responsible for everything that is happening and yes there has been an improvement to a certain extent,” Wilson said.

She’s lived in the Old Town neighborhood for the last five years. She’s seen what it used to be but she said it’s going to take years for her neighborhood to rebound. So for her, 90-days isn’t enough to clean up the streets in front of her apartment on Northwest Flanders Street.

“24 hours a day there is somebody out there screaming at the top of their heads, vile language, cussing this person out, or god out. They’re mentally unstable,” Wilson said. “They need help but there isn’t any.”

After half a decade of living in Portland’s oldest neighborhood, she’s near her breaking point.

“I can’t go outside and walk in my own neighborhood anymore without being fearful,” Wilson said.

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler touted the progress as well at Monday’s press conference. But he said he knows there’s still a lot of work to do. If Old Town turns around, then Wheeler said the neighborhood could be a model for other parts of the city experiencing similar issues.

“I think we’ve got a very good formula here and I look forward to using this across the city as our resources become available, that’s what we exactly intend to do,” Wheeler said. “This is not a problem that just impacts Old Town, although Old Town saw the most egregious part of it, this is an issue city-wide.”

Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell also gave an update on his agency’s task of making Old Town safer. Crime is still an issue in the area, but Chief Lovell gave some promising numbers.

“I’m happy to report between March 22nd and May 20th reported drug offenses are down 51 percent, trespassing reports are down 93 percent and vandalism reports have seen a decrease of 13 percent compared to the proceeding 60-day period,” Chief Lovell said.

For Wilson, she wants to see her neighborhood turn around in her lifetime. She wants to see Old Town return to a place for Portlander to experience the heart of the city’s diverse culture.

“Come back to Old Town,” Wilson said. “We need you. We need the foot traffic. We need your input because without people, it’s dead.”