It’s time to bring our homeless home
Homelessness is a complex, epidemic emergency that affects every Oregonian. There should be no shame in being homeless. And if you need help, the state should be capable of helping you without harming others.
The cost of housing and healthcare, compounded by the stagnation of wages mean more people are at risk of becoming homeless. And those just getting by often aren’t included in government statistics that enable government funding to help them.
Oregon is in desperate need of a comprehensive, all-inclusive policy that can provide a sustainable solution to Oregon’s homeless epidemic.
To solve Oregon’s homeless crisis, my plan includes:
1. Creating a foundation for sustainable change
Before we can clean up our streets, we need a socially acceptable policy that brings our homeless home. That starts with being able to define the reasons behind each individual.
We must direct the sick towards adequate healthcare facilities. The poor towards financial aid and jobs. And those in crisis to places of care and reason.
Remove restrictions on adding new hospital beds
Oregon has the fewest hospital beds per capita in the US. This is due to pre-existing restrictions that came along with the Affordable Care Act and the creation of Coordinated Care Organizations in 2010 by the John Kitzhaber administration. These restrictions must go.
The Covid pandemic has made the need for more hospital beds painfully obvious. But we also need more beds–and more hospitals–specifically designated for mental health.
Healthcare organizations are eager to build new hospitals and care facilities. Yet, the unreasonable regulations that OHA has imposed tie up the building process.
For example, the plans for a new Wilsonville mental health facility have been delayed for 5 years by endless OHA negotiations. OHA is demanding half the beds to be free of charge.
Create low-barrier grant programs for reputable non-profits
We need to stop wasting money on government programs that don’t work.
Instead, the state should award grants to private homeless prevention services with documented histories of success. One great example is Rogue Retreat, which gets over 60% of its people off the street and into long term housing.
Many privately-funded organizations are providing comprehensive homeless services for as little as $600 per person/month. A far cry from the over $5,000 per person/month the city of Portland is currently paying with your tax dollars.
We need to select organizations that work quickly and efficiently to ensure we are helping the greatest number of people possible for the least cost to taxpayers.
Support creation of shared peer support services
Peer support services are staffed with people who have experienced houselessness, addiction, and mental health issues. They go through training and certification to provide sidewalk intervention, referral and de-escalation services to people in crisis.
The city of Portland and Multnomah county recently granted $1.25 million to Blanchet House–a private, local non-profit–to create a shared peer support program. Blanchet House hires teams of peer support specialists that can be accessed by their own and any other local agencies.
When individuals in crisis go in search of help, the caregivers in shared services replicate a large family of familiar faces–city wide–that have proven to produce greater success in ending homelessness.
2. Balancing housing supply and demand
One of the main principles in Economics 101 is supply and demand. Oregon’s government requires complex regulations to build more housing. So supply goes down, demand goes up and prices soar.
Ease the housing shortage
The quickest way to solve this problem is to cut unnecessary regulations and free the markets.
To jumpstart growth, we need to incentivize builders to invest by lowering permit costs and providing temporary tax abatements.
We need to end building height restrictions in our downtown urban suburbs. We need to expand upwards and to build denser. In turn, this takes advantage of our existing public transportation and infrastructure.
Replace government-funded housing with non-profit funding
Government affordable housing programs aren’t working. They cost too much money, have no accountability for spending, and they are not going up fast enough to solve this crisis.
The solution is to invest in non-profit programs with proven results, support ready-to-go projects, and renovate existing homes when available.
We need to build homes, not projects.
Affordable housing for the elderly
Today, the elderly are becoming homeless faster than the young and middle-aged.
Section 8 housing vouchers are increasingly hard to obtain in Oregon. With rising senior housing costs, many of our elderly have nowhere to go.
We must provide tax incentives to senior living facilities offering low-cost senior housing. The goal is to encourage market competition and to offer grants to senior living facilities providing exceptional care.
3. Leverage technology to solve the crisis
Technology is the foundation of modern life and our roadmap for the future. And we can easily leverage technology to help solve the housing crisis.
Track available beds in real time
In 2022, Portland is still using paper spreadsheets and phone calls to track bed availability.
Our homeless organizations and police need an online, mobile tool to track that information in real time. The great news is that this technology has been around since 1991 in the form of popular apps like Hotels.com and Airbnb.
We need a similar web-based solution to be used by first responders to house those sleeping on the streets.
Rebuild the Homeless Management Information System (HMIS)
The purpose of HMIS is to collect client-level data and information on housing, shelter, and services.
However, this system is outdated, complex, and wasteful. In fact, many organizations have 3 or 4 workers just typing data into this system. That is a huge waste of resources.
We need to outfit OHP with a new, digital backbone. This will allow easier access to information to ensure healthcare needs are being economically met.
4. Allowing law enforcement to provide compassionate accountability
Tough love needs to be a part of the solution. We must enforce existing laws and hold violators accountable for their actions.
Enforce No Camping Laws
With proper housing in place, we can fairly enforce our no camping laws.
Oregon has always upheld its no camping law–a law that prohibited camping along the side of freeways. But Kate Brown and local city leaders have abandoned enforcement of these laws.
Portland currently prohibits camping on sidewalks except between the hours of 9PM-7AM. However, not even this law has been enforced.
Expansion of drug and mental health crisis programs
Portland Street Response and Eugene’s CAHOOTS are two great programs dealing with crisis response. Yet, more improvements are needed to create a more effective, streamlined response.
These programs dispatch a team of EMTs, crisis workers, and peer support specialists. Oftentimes the person in crisis is disoriented and violent. This requires police involvement which creates a strain on law enforcement.
We need to create a department of police officers, specifically trained in crisis intervention. These officers will be distributed as-needed throughout the precincts to supplement and train our existing police force in the compassionate but effective control of homelessness.
5. Improving Oregon’s buinesses by reviving tourism
The final step is to support businesses by bringing tourists back to Oregon.
Murals can be a deterrent for graffiti while also providing impactful imagery that motivates a recovering city. So can the incentivization of local and out-of-state entrepreneurs to establish new hospitality, food and leisure businesses.
This requires a full scale PR campaign to make Oregon downright weird again.
Travel Oregon is a governor-elected, tax-funded board that manages Oregon’s tourism campaigns. At the moment, not a single member is in marketing, advertising, or public relations.
We need a renewed direction that focuses on high ROI advertising. It is time to attract both tourism and new businesses to Oregon.
Through positive images and clean streets we can make the change and get people back in droves to help our state economy to thrive.
Let’s Get to Work
Dealing with people in crisis requires The Oregon Touch. The tough reality is that our people are entrapped in many different states of crisis. We must approach them with dignity, compassion, and yes, a touch of tough love.
This is not about finding some model that might work–it’s about supporting ALL the models that do work.
Together, we must push ourselves toward a better Oregon–an Oregon that is safe, prosperous, and full of bright new futures–for all of us.