Mayor of Portland, Oregon Charlie Hales feels passionately enough about the homelessness that is plaguing his city that he wants to declare a state of emergency.
According to city estimates, since 2011 nearly 4,000 people in Portland sleep on the streets, in shelters or in temporary housing on a given night.
Yesterday, Hales asked officials to take a vote on declaring a state of emergency. If the vote passes, the city would be allowed to waive zoning codes when developing shelters for the homeless.
In a state of emergency, the city could convert city-owned buildings into shelters and expedite building a new permanent supportive housing site for people who have been served by a local psychiatric emergency center, Huffington Post reports.
“When I came into office, the single-night count of homeless told us we had 1,800 Portlanders sleeping unsheltered,” Hales reportedly said. “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.”
One of Hales’ goals is to house all of Portland’s homeless women by the end of the year, but he hasn't yet offered a financial commitment to back up his plan.
In just two years the number of homeless adult women in the city increased by 15%, according to an official count and nearly half of the women surveyed reported being victims of domestic violence.
The spike in homelessness is attributed to increased rents and decreased shelter options. In 2008 Portland offered 730 year-round shelter beds but by the end of 2014 that number had shrunk to 478, according to KGW.
While Hales has received criticism about his motives for suddenly approaching this issue with urgency — conveniently during a campaign year — he insists that he was motivated by Los Angeles and Seattle’s similar approaches to combat homelessness in large cities.
Motive and intention can be tricky, especially in the political world. But, when it comes to taking direct action to fixing a problem within a community…do the people affected really care about the “motives” or do they just want to see the plans carried out regardless of the reasoning behind it?
This question will be important for Portland official's to consider when casting their vote on the state of emergency next month.