Increased homelessness and its root causes are not unique to Portland. Despite what we hear about a strengthening economy, homelessness and hunger have exploded and many thousands of hungry, cold and ill Americans are living on streets in cities and towns across the country. And, across the country, municipalities and service providers struggle daily with unpredictable funding and increased costs as they work tirelessly to help people in their communities find shelter, food, housing, health care and hope.

Narratives sensationalizing problems and pointing fingers at those who are suffering – and those working diligently to alleviate the suffering – serve only to further stigmatize the most disadvantaged people and distract us from addressing the systemic causative forces at play.

Anyone looking for an apartment in the city of Portland – as in cities throughout the U.S. – can tell you how hard it is to find rental housing they can afford. Almost anyone in Portland or anywhere in the nation can tell you about the devastation caused by the opioid epidemic, either because they know someone desperately seeking treatment for which there is no funding or because they are grieving over a loved one who has died because they could not find or afford a recovery program. Most people who have experienced mental illness can tell you about the dire lack of mental health care.

Here in Portland, state and federal legislation, budget cutting and public policy implementation have all placed constraints on resources that no municipality or nonprofit has the means to adequately offset. Nonprofits and local governments must constantly juggle and adjust, making every effort to work collaboratively to coordinate services, prevent duplication and create innovative, solutions-oriented program models to counter the damage caused by the shredding safety net and growing economic inequality.

Yet no matter what we do, and despite all that we’ve accomplished, it is not enough to offset the effects of public priorities and socioeconomic realities that result in people being forced to choose between paying rent or paying for medicine, huddling on the streets, sleeping in doorways, overdosing in soup kitchen bathrooms and lining up with their children in the cold to wait for a food box.

In the face of increasing need and decreasing funding, we all need to work together to bring healing to the community. Whether it’s municipalities or faith groups, nonprofits or civic organization or businesses, everyone needs to accept responsibility for the well-being of the people in our neighborhoods.

Throughout Bayside, and all over the city, increasing quality of life is in everyone’s best interest.

But given the scope of the crises, the current resources we have are not enough. The casework and shelter services we can provide are not enough. The amount of police coverage available is not enough. The detox and recovery services we have are not enough. We’re holding back the dam with all of our resources and all of our heart, but it isn’t enough.

The habit of blaming the victims or the people working to help them is short-sighted and counterproductive. If the rate of people dying in traffic accidents increased because roads were not maintained, we would not assume the drivers were at fault.

When social and public health crises like homelessness and the opioid epidemic escalate, we must continue to demand resources for housing, health care and treatment for mental health and substance use disorder for the injured.

We must continue to focus on the real solution to homelessness: housing. From housing vouchers to low-income housing initiatives, from recovery houses to Housing First programs such as Logan Place, Florence House and Huston Commons, housing saves lives and saves the community money.

In the meantime, as individuals and families crowd into shelters, we will continue to do what we can with limited resources; to do everything in our power to meet basic needs, to collaborate with other service providers and to connect people with every available opportunity to move forward and reclaim their lives.


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