Old Town business owner not yet ‘optimistic’ as Kotek signs 3 orders addressing homelessness

Published: Jan. 10, 2023 at 9:58 PM PST
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PORTLAND Ore. (KPTV) – In her first days in office, Governor Tina Kotek signed three executive orders all in an effort to address the homeless crisis across the state and in the Portland metro area.

One of those orders declares the houseless crisis a state of emergency, proposing a multi-million dollar investment to get people off the street.

Jessie Burke owns The Society Hotel and says while these orders are encouraging, a lot more needs to be done to address the addiction and mental health crisis she sees on the street every day.

“I see us as sort of ground zero, worst-case scenario for everything,” Burke says.

Burke is the CEO of The Society Hotel in Old Town and char of The Old Town Community Association. She’s also been vocal about addressing drug use and crime in the area and get the houseless help they need.

Almost a year ago, Burke helped the City of Portland come up with a 90-day reset plan focusing on cleaning up Old Town, creating a central database for available shelter beds in the city and asking for more lighting.

SEE ALSO: Kotek signs three executive orders, focusing on the housing and homeless crisis

“It’s two-fold,” Burke says of the lighting. “It’s more attractive and that’s one of our biggest issues is the darkness. There’s a lot more bad behavior when it’s dark.”

While the Old Town reset only officially lasted 90 days, she says they’re still making improvements.

Now state leadership is stepping in.

In just the first few days in office, Gov. Kotek has signed three executive orders, one declaring the homeless crisis a state emergency and another directing state agencies to prioritize reducing sheltered and unsheltered homelessness.

Gov. Kotek also set an ambitious goal of building 36,000 homes every years but burke says she’s not celebrating just yet.

“I’m not going to say I’m optimistic -- it’s encouraging because we’re 10 days into the new year, but as someone who’s on the ground every single day, you can hear me say it in every press conference, this is not necessarily a housing crisis in my mind,” Burke says.

Paired with those, Kotek’s third order proposes a $130 million investment, hoping to get 1,200 Oregonians off the street in a year and expand shelter beds by 600.

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Burke thinks it’s going to take bolder action to address the deeper issues that are at pay, like addiction and mental health crises.

“If you believe that outside is merely housing, you are not involved and you are not paying attention,” Burke says. “So, it’s fine that we can declare a state of emergency for housing, but that’s not what’s happening outside. I would love if someone would declare an emergency for what’s happening outside.”

Gov. Kotek says access o behavioral health is another part of her plan to get people off the streets.