Wheeler answers questions on homeless crisis, city plan at NE Portland town hall

Published: Mar. 18, 2023 at 10:19 PM PDT
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PORTLAND Ore. (KPTV) - Dozens of people packed into a northeast Portland church to hear Mayor Ted Wheeler answer questions on Saturday about the city’s homeless crisis and how his plan will work to fix it.

Many were people who live, work, or own businesses in the Montavilla neighborhood.

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Some, like David Guild, were there to hear from Multnomah County about how they’re tackling the homeless crisis. Guild is the property owner who sold the county the site of its new ‘Safe Park’ location on Southeast 82nd avenue. He said the county’s claims of being transparent with the community about their plans to set this up are not true. That’s because county officials were not transparent with him when they bought the property.

“Even after we sold the property we had to of course give them the keys. I go ‘now since the sale is over, what are you guys doing with this?’ ‘Can’t discuss it’,” Guild said. “So the idea that they said they talked with the neighbors, they worked with the neighbors, is false.”

Guild said he wasn’t shocked to learn this past week what the county planned on doing with his old property.

“I knew one of the neighbors behind us and I have empathy,” Guild said. “That’s not a neighborhood for a place like that.”

Angela Todd, the organizer of the town hall said she reached out to both Multnomah County and Wheeler’s office with an invitation and only Wheeler showed up. Even so, she said the town hall gave people in her neighborhood a chance to ask questions to the city’s leader.

“I think we have done a bad job as residents, and community members not being involved in our government and I think our voices need to be heard by elected officials so that together we can come together with solutions,” Todd said.

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During the hour-long conversation with the mayor, he answered questions about his plan to tackle the houseless crisis and how his office is going to support different neighborhoods along the way. He was candid with many of his responses, like acknowledging the frustration of finding locations for his six mass encampments that have seemed to be focused on more low-income neighborhoods of the city.

“That is absolutely a fair criticism,” Wheeler said. “It’s a well-founded criticism and is something that I’ve taken to heart, my staff is taking to heart.”

Wheeler said his office is trying to make sure the location of the camps is geographically equal and hinted he’s getting pushback on a potential property in a more affluent part of Portland. When it comes to safety concerns of local businesses, he said he meets with business leaders regularly.

“There’s no doubt about it. The sheer number of unsanctioned encampments we’re seeing, a large blockage of sidewalks and other public right of ways, is having a huge impact on small business owners and operators,” Wheeler said.

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He said his office has done things like create 90-day reset plans in the Old Town and Central Eastside neighborhoods. After those 90 days, Wheeler said crime and drug use around businesses decreased. But he told the crowd a lot of work still needs to be done and his plan to tackle the crisis is moving the city in the right direction.

“It will be better, it’ll not be perfect, but it’s a step down the path of helping people recover their lives and helping us restore access to our public spaces,” Wheeler said.