Mayor Charlie Hales is so disconcerted by the growing housing crisis in Portland, Oregon, that he sees no choice but to declare a homelessness “state of emergency."
On a single night in January, 3,800 people slept on the streets, in shelters or in temporary housing, a figure that has remained relatively unchanged since 2011, according to city estimates. Hales tasked officials on Wednesday to vote on declaring a state of emergency, which -- if passed next month -- would allow the city to waive zoning codes when developing shelters for homeless people.
Hales said one of his priorities is to house all homeless women by the end of the year.
Over the past two years, the number of adult women experiencing homelessness increased by 15 percent to 1,161 women, according to the city’s official count. Nearly half of the women surveyed reported having been victims of domestic violence.
The housing crisis stems from dwindling shelter options coupled with soaring rents.
A state of emergency would allow the city to convert city-owned buildings into shelters and expedite building a new, permanent supportive housing site for those who have been served by a psychiatric emergency center in Portland.
But the mayor didn’t offer a financial commitment to accompany his announcement, and some question Hales’ true motives.
State Treasurer Ted Wheeler, who’s running for mayor next year, expressed his suspicion considering that he’s already made housing and homelessness an integral part of his campaign.
"We need a mayor that will address the major problems facing the city every year -- not just during an election year," Jake Weigler, Wheeler's campaign consultant, said, according to the Oregonian.
Hales’ surprise announcement came on the heels of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s similar declaration last Tuesday.
Anywhere between 25,000 and 50,000 people sleep on the streets of L.A. and Garcetti proposed $100 million plan to put an end it.
Hales cited L.A. and Seattle’s similar approaches and said he plans on convening a meeting of the mayors of the major West Coast cities this fall.
“When I came into office, the single-night count of homeless told us we had 1,800 Portlanders sleeping unsheltered,” Hales added. “That same count, two years later, barely budged. And yet we had spent millions of dollars and countless staff time. We’ve tried slow and steady. We’ve tried by the book. It’s time to add the tools we currently lack.”
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