Easing the Burden of Homelessness

We can do more to ease the burden of homelessness on all of us by advocating the State to address the root causes of homelessness while integrating homeless residents safely with the city, so that every Portlander can have their space.



Portland's Homelessness Epidemic

Portlanders widely agree that homelessness is a critical issue in our city, that must be addressed. However, Portlanders are also widely divided on how to address homelessness, at a fundamental level. Some are full of compassion for our homeless residents, pushing for increased funds to provide more help and services and insisting that all our efforts must be founded in kindness. Others are full of frustration, demanding efforts of any sort to stop the gradual takeover of the city by homeless residents, including forcible efforts. Unfortunately, both sides are wrong because they can only see part of the problem.


To the Compassionate: your compassion blinds you to the very real dangers and harm caused by homeless residents to others. Yes, we must and should have compassion for those less fortunate, but we must also have compassion and understanding for those residents whose businesses, homes, and lives are injured by unfettered activity of the homeless. No matter how hurt you are, it does not justify hurting others, whether intentional or not.


To the Frustrated: your frustration blinds you to the very real humanity and tragedy that leads our homeless residents to become homeless. Yes, we must not and should not allow homeless residents to act unfettered in the city, but we also must have understanding that they are residents of the city and should have legitimate avenues to live here. And as a practical matter, there is no punishment that will end the homelessness of any person. No matter how damaged you are, it does not justify damaging others, especially not fruitlessly.


Ultimately, this is a question of practical outcomes. Kindness and kind acts, like providing food or allowing widespread camping, do not lead to the actual resolution of homelessness. Put another way, most compassionate efforts don't help move people out of homelessness. Frustration and punitive acts, like fines or removing homeless residents from the city, also do not lead to any actual resolution of homeslessness. Put another way, punishment doesn't get people out of homelessness. And many kind and frustrated responses may even perpetuate homelessness. No one wants homelessness or the burdens caused by homelessness, and we must spend our energies and resources on practical efforts to contain and end homelessness.


Sadly, no city can solve systemic homelessness because the systems that lead to homelessness are bigger than any city. It takes the efforts and support of all Oregonians, not just Portlanders, to make the systemic changes across the state to end homelessness, and to gather the resources sufficient to do so. But, that doesn't mean Portland is powerless. Here's what we can do:


1. Make housing affordable, as under my plan to scale rent to income. Affordable housing helps buffer people from other systemic issues that may push them into homelessness.


2. Advocate our State Legislature and Governor for systemic changes, like mental healthcare coupled with housing, and drug rehabilitation. Portland can be a strong voice to our state government, pushing for the changes Portlanders know we need.


3. Integrate our homeless residents with Portland life. While the Legislature and Governor are working (or not) to address systemic causes of homelessness, we must take practical steps to recognize we have a homeless resident population and integrate them into the city in ways that allow them to live here while minimizing the dangers and damage.


A first step in integrating our homeless resident population is to identify safe areas in the city for homeless residents to erect temporary camps. Such safe areas should be away from schools, homes, and foot-traffic businesses, thus limiting the impact of temporary camps. Further, such safe areas help ease homeless residents' concerns and fear over rousting, while making it easier for support organizations to provide services.


Our homeless residents are here and are a part of Portland. We cannot feed or fine them out of homelessness. Systemic changes to end homelessness will take time and concerted effort by our State government. But Portland can take steps to ease the burden of homelessness on all of us by implementing policies to integrate homeless residents with the city, making all our lives safer and easier.

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© 2023 by Ryan A. Farmer

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