Draft letter to county commissioners gives insight to Mayor Wheeler’s plan for homeless crisis

Published: Oct. 18, 2022 at 5:55 PM PDT
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PORTLAND Ore. (KPTV) - Days after details of a new plan to tackle Portland’s ballooning homeless crisis, a newly obtained draft letter gives more insight into what Mayor Ted Wheeler has in store.

The draft letter signed by Wheeler and city commissioner Dan Ryan was sent to Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury last week. There are not a lot of specific details in the letter but it does show a desire from Wheeler to have a more collaborative effort between the city and the county in tackling the homeless crisis. It also outlines a more aggressive response from the city and the county to get people off the streets. Oregon independent gubernatorial candidate, Betsy Johnson, told business owners at a roundtable discussion on Monday that Wheeler briefed her on the plan.

“He’s talking about breaking up between 5 and 700 little encampments,” Johnson said. “And try to aggregate those encampments where there are services, nutrition and sanitation, some services and some law enforcement.”

The letter calls on the county to take on certain responsibilities. For example, Wheeler wants the county to open up all shelter spaces currently closed, manage safe rest villages, fund and build three designated campsites, and provide health and human services. In return, he said the city will take on the responsibility of constructing 20,000 affordable housing units by 2023, and enforce all outdoor camping regulations and bans while funding and operating outreach programs. Jointly, both governments would agree to an 18-month phased ban on unsanctioned camping in Portland and unincorporated Multnomah County. Johnson said she’s happy the mayor is taking a decisive stance. Democratic candidate for governor, Tina Kotek, also agrees with the mayor’s plan.

“I support the direction that Mayor Wheeler is going,” Kotek said to a group of supporters at an event in Salem on Monday. “We need to make it easier for service and outreach teams to connect with people who are living on the streets and the campuses he’s proposing is an important next step.”

Republican candidate Christine Drazan sent FOX 12 this statement:

“Location, security, and management of the new initiative are unknown at this time which leaves some major issues unanswered. But I am encouraged to see the city taking action. I look forward to working with Mayor Wheeler and local leaders as our state’s next governor to ensure homelessness is rare and temporary, reopen our sidewalks and public spaces, restore safety to our streets, and support Oregonians in need.”

Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury sent FOX 12 this statement in regard to the mayor’s draft letter:

“Multnomah County and the Joint Office have worked harder than anyone in this community to move people off the street and into stable, healthier homes. We’ve added more shelter beds in more locations, and created more responsive types of shelter, from motels to villages to behavioral health facilities. My team has locked down sites for hundreds of shelter beds this past year alone, with beds opening and construction crews getting started, as we deliver on our budgeted goal of growing to 2,400 adult shelter beds.

At the same time, we are housing people right now, too. We helped 4,500 people move directly into permanent housing last year, including neighbors who were on our streets for years. That’s what housing first means.

In addition, we’ve kept tens of thousands of people from becoming homeless through short-term rent assistance. And even that’s not enough. Homelessness is getting worse because more and more people are being pushed into it every year.

And let’s also be clear: If the Mayor’s office wants to “clean up” this city and enforce time, place, and manner laws, they don’t have to hide behind me or anyone else. They can just do it.”

FOX 12 also reached out to Wheeler’s office for more information about the plan but a spokesperson said details are being ironed out. He claims more would be released this week, but we have yet to hear of any such plan.