Opinion: It’s up to us to end homelessness

By Israel Bayer, Executive Director, Street Roots, Nov. 15, 2013

Israel Bayer

Israel Bayer

Ending homelessness in downtown Portland and throughout our community can feel impossible at times.

The lack of employment and living wage jobs, a foreclosure crisis, mental health, addiction, returning war veterans, an overwhelmed foster care and health care system, domestic violence, human trafficking, addiction, all contribute to the various forces that create homelessness in our community.

The federal government’s disinvestment in housing over the past three decades is well documented. Local city, county and state governments along with partnerships with the business and faith communities and nonprofits have been forced to carry the burden of ending individuals’ and families’ homelessness.

Unfortunately, Portland is not unique. Every urban environment in the United States finds itself at the same crossroads. In Los Angles, there are more than 40,000 people experiencing homelessness. In Seattle, nearly 9,000. In San Francisco, 7,000. The list goes on.

In the midst of the greatest recession of our lifetime the private and public sector has helped house thousands of people. In the past seven years local government has housed more than 12,000 individuals and families. Last year alone, Multnomah County helped stabilize more than 2,000 households. While amazing, we know it’s still not enough.

Concentrating on the deserving poor (families) verses the undeserving poor (street kids) simply won’t get us there.

More and more tourists are visiting our city each year. The rental market is booming. There are more residents living in downtown than ever before. Retail space downtown is on the rebound. Portland is literally and figuratively speaking, a growing city on a hill.

In the midst of our changing city, we must not forget that with all of these successes come great challenges — the lack of affordable housing, equity, transportation, jobs and a growing income disparity.

It’s up to us as a community to solve the problem of homelessness through both traditional and nontraditional partnerships and strategies with both the public and private sector. Our region and state must work towards long-term solutions to tackle the problem. That means working to create more living wage jobs for low-income residents and working to develop solutions dedicated to ending poverty.

If we are truly committed to ending the disgrace of homelessness in our community, now is not the time to scapegoat or turn our backs on the progress we’ve made. Now is the time to rise above the rhetoric and semantics, to engage and work together, to forge new strategies to tackle the problem. Together, we can solve individuals’ and families’ homelessness and do the impossible.