November 19, 2012

Big crowd gathers in Portland to address homelessness

By Randy Billings
Staff Writer

PORTLAND -- An overflow crowd is on hand to weigh in on a task force report to prevent and end homelessness.

Dozens of homeless advocates held a vigil on the steps of City Hall prior to the meeting. Several held signs and stood in front of green mats and heard plastic chairs used at the shelter.

The task force was formed by the Portland City Council last year to suggest ways to reduce the number of homeless people in the city.

One of the report's recommendations is to establish three 35-unit housing complexes, providing in-house services for residents struggling with certain issues, such as mental illness or substance abuse. It also suggests centralizing in-take procedures.

The City Council is being asked to accept the report and refer its elements to its subcommittees for future study, according to a memo to the council.

The business community last week raised caution about implementing the recommendations too quickly out of fear it would make the city's homeless problem worse.

Homelessness has long been an issue in Portland, and demand for assistance has increased significantly since the recession hit in 2008.

Demand peaked this summer, when more than 400 people regularly sought shelter at night. City shelters overflowed to the point where people were spending nights in metal chairs in the city's General Assistance office.

The task force did not include cost estimates for its recommendations. The current system costs more than $6.7 million per year, and a new streamlined system could save $2.2 million in emergency care costs, the report says.

Portland has had a policy of not turning away anyone who seeks shelter since 1987, when a homeless encampment was erected at City Hall to protest the closing of a shelter.

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