Portland has been experiencing exponential growth in the number of homeless people on the streets. Thankfully, the opening of the Riverside shelter has provided more resources to stabilize the lives of unhoused people.

While opinions on the best course of action vary, it has been universally agreed upon that the city doesn’t have enough housing. Unfortunately, Portland uses shelter availability as a warrant for demolishing campsites when there isn’t enough shelter space. This doesn’t solve the problem, it temporarily disperses it.

This is why I propose that the private citizens and organizations of the city cooperate with the local government to launch a coordinated systems approach to remove barriers to recovery for chronically homeless individuals. As defined by the National Alliance to End Homelessness, a coordinated systems approach involves a “community-wide coordinated approach to delivering services, housing, and programs” that is “strategic and data driven.”

An approach like this can help cover Portland’s apparent lack of shelter space, as community members can provide resources to make the lives of the unhoused easier, allowing them to focus on finding housing, health care and other situation-improving resources until shelter space opens up or they find their footing. Thankfully, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has been collecting data on the needs of homeless individuals; participants can figure out what resources are most needed.

Housing vouchers aren’t working out for many homeless individuals due to massive upfront costs, which semi-anonymous applicant Bill reported to the Maine Monitor: “who can come up with $4,000, $5,000, $6,000 before they move into an apartment, especially working a full-time job paying barely above minimum wage?”

With a coordinated systems approach, homeless individuals can be better connected to job and housing opportunities while having to spend less time searching for other resources like food and health care.


Many homeless individuals experience personal barriers like unresolved mental and physical health issues. According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, “people living in shelters are more than twice as likely to have a disability compared to the general population,” along with nearly a third of the U.S. homeless population experiencing “serious mental illness” and about a quarter experiencing chronic substance use disorder. What’s worse is that health issues can be exacerbated by being homeless due to lack of health care, therapy or clean living conditions.

Fears of mental health outbursts are also directly given as reasons homeless individuals choose to avoid shelters. Providing field health care and therapy could help certain homeless individuals feel more confident about staying in a shelter and remove barriers in their daily lives.

Making a coordinated investment in homeless people’s futures can also improve business in the Portland area. Fewer encampments leads consumers to feel safer. Better yet for business owners, participating in the community response to homelessness can act as good PR. Ultimately, homeless individuals, too, should have financial stability.

Some may argue that offering resources to homeless people would turn them into freeloaders. However, people don’t choose to be homeless, many are victims of circumstance: being born with disabilities, into poverty, turbulent childhoods, more. Equally important is the fact that while there’s a chance of bad actors in any system, doing nothing won’t fix the problem. In fact, leaving people homeless means their kids are more likely to experience chronic homelessness themselves.

It’s easy to curl one’s nose at those whose lives have been thrust into an unsightly desperation. But these are people, people who shouldn’t be punished for having no other options. Please consider a more compassionate option: working together so we can solve a problem where no one is benefiting.

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