Monday, December 9, 2013
PORTLAND – From the chronically homeless who refuse help to roving bands of young gypsies during the summer, the city is looking to get creative in how it deals with bad behavior downtown.
Those behaviors – public urination, public drinking, daytime drug deals and profanity – were the subject of meeting Wednesday of the Creative Portland Corp., a nonprofit group focused on improving the creative economy.
"My concern about this is the public experience on Congress Street is deteriorating from a subjective point of view," said board chairman Andy Graham. "The sense is last summer it felt more dangerous. It felt more combative."
The problem of unruly behavior is being discussed as City Council subcommittees are poised to address task force's recommendations to prevent and end homelessness in Portland, which include providing more housing for chronically homeless and a greater emphasis on casework, among others.
The report comes against a backdrop of proposed cuts for general assistance.
"GA programs are the closest to a real safety net and those are being very dramatically attacked up in Augusta," said Mark Swann, executive director of Preble Street Resource Center.
Last week, Mayor Michael Brennan expressed concern that if the state institutes a proposed $10.1 million cap on GA, Portland could see an increased in demand for services.
Representatives from the Portland Downtown District, a business advocacy group, and the Preble Street, a nonprofit social services group, told members of Creative Portland on Wednesday about current efforts to address unruly behavior.
The Downtown District helps fund the HOME team, a proactive outreach group that tries to help chronically homeless people from Longfellow Square to Monument Square get the services they need.
Preble Street, meanwhile, has an outreach group focused on homeless youths. Also, last summer, two police cadets were hired to walk a foot patrol downtown.
Despite those efforts, unruly behavior – whether caused by homeless people or the groups of young people who travel to Portland to hang out in Tommy's and Post Office parks – seems to be rising.
"For those of use who live and work in the city, it's become more of a challenge to be in our downtown," Graham said.
Janis Beitzer, executive director of the Portland Downtown District, told board members their input would be valuable as the city begins implementing the homelessness task force's recommendations.
She said providing housing to the chronic homeless works, but it should be provided throughout neighborhoods rather than the task force-recommended complexes.
The zoning code should be changed to allow homeless shelters in areas besides downtown and Bayside, she said.
Businesses leaders would like the city to reconsider a ban on panhandling in street medians, which was shot down last amid opposition from homeless advocates.
"It's not a freedom of speech issue," she said. "The issue here is you should be giving your money to services that help people, as opposed to enabling people to live on the street."
Staff Writer Randy Billings can be contacted at 791-6346 or at: