PORTLAND, Ore. (KPTV) - Frustrated by increasing crime, unsafe conditions and fewer visitors, several of Portland’s iconic cultural organizations sent a joint letter Monday to city and county leaders, demanding help to cleanup Old Town and bring more resources to the neighborhood’s homeless.
FOX 12 interviewed Elizabeth Nye, the executive director of the Lan Su Chinese Garden.
“It’s supposed to be a place of beauty and respite and recharging, and revitalization,” Nye said about the garden.
Lately it’s been quite the opposite.
“Within one month alone we had four staff members at this point that either have been verbally or physically assaulted,” Nye said.
“It’s not just the number of attacks but it’s the severity the attacks,” added Nye, describing an instance where an employee was chased in his car by men with pipes and another employee who was physically assaulted while walking to work.
Neighborhood cultural organizations, including the Chinese Garden, the Japanese American Museum of Oregon, the Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education and the Portland Chinatown Museum wrote the letter to draw attention to “rapidly deteriorating conditions in our neighborhood” including “flagrant drug dealing, fires and vandalism, verbal and physical threats as well as actual assaults.”
The crimes and unsightly conditions go together with struggles of the homeless community living on these streets.
Nye said the consequences threaten the future of the garden.
“We are hearing from both visitors and from members that they do not feel safe coming to Old Town.”
Membership to the garden is still down more than 50% since the height of the pandemic, said Nye.
Visits to the garden have also plummeted by nearly the same figures, something Nye attributes to the unsafe and unwelcoming atmosphere in Old Town.
“It’s just random, it’s constant, you never know if it’s going to escalate to the point of something that has the potential to be deadly and that’s our biggest concern,” Nye said.
“What I would like to see, overall, is our city’s commitment, whatever it takes to ensure public safety and whatever it takes on the county level to ensure to make sure we have a mental health response that has a continuum of services for people we’re not experiencing the profound mental health behaviors that we’re seeing on the streets currently,” Nye added.
A couple from LA, vacationing in Portland, was in Old Town Monday.
“I would say it’s one thing I didn’t expect coming, visiting here, is all the homeless,” Monique Rauda said. “I had no clue.”
Shortly after seeing the letter – Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury told FOX 12 she’s eager to listen and offer help and solutions.
“There are a lot of services out there, but people don’t know where to go to get them,” Kafoury said.
Meanwhile, Old Town’s cultural organizations are putting a time stamp on their demands -- asking for a meeting and specific solutions by October 22.
The letter mentioned adding more police officers and mental health services dedicated to the Old Town district of Portland.
“This is not just about Lan Su,” Nye said. “This is not just about the other cultural institutions, our entire neighborhood is hurting and we all, especially our houseless neighbors, need help.”
City Commissioner Mingus Mapps’ office told FOX 12 Mapps has offered a meeting with these organizations on Thursday.