How best to tackle the growing issue of homelessness took center stage at the Portland Business Alliance’s annual meeting this morning.
Mitch Hornecker, chair of the alliance, urged attendees at one of the state’s largest annual business gatherings to put pressure on elected leaders to provide more shelters and services for thousands of homeless people living on the city’s streets.
“Not every city is overwhelmed like Portland,” said Hornecker. “Portland can and must do better.”
Oregon has the country’s fourth highest percentage of “unsheltered” homeless individuals and families and recorded the third highest increase (behind California and New York) in the number of homeless people in 2015, according to the alliance’s campaign website, Portland Can do Better.
The problem is made worse by the lack of affordable housing in the city, which is forcing vulnerable people out on the streets.
The chair of the business group took a swipe at Mayor Charlie Hales’ Safe Sleep Policy, which allows people to sleep in sleeping bags on sidewalks and erect tents from 9pm to 7am on rights of way other than sidewalks. The alliance and other business groups and neighborhood associations are suing the mayor and the city because of the policy.
Hornecker said the mayor’s initiative has created an “unsafe environment” for the public. Speaking to an audience of more than 1,000 business and government attendees, including candidate for mayor Ted Wheeler, Hornecker said the alliance wants the issue of homelessness to be front and center of the mayoral race.
The alliance presented an award to Barry Menashe, head of commercial real estate developer Menashe Properties, for providing one of its empty buildings in downtown Portland in January to create a homeless shelter for more than 100 men.
“I have never seen a crisis like we are seeing today,” said Menashe. The issue is personal for the property developer whose sister and brother had mental health problems and lived on and off the streets for years. They both died in their 50s.
He urged the city and county to do more to make unused buildings available for accommodating homeless people.
“We can’t have camping on the street,” he said.