Tipper Gore homes in on Portland

From the Oregonian, March 11, 1995

Tipper Gore‘s visit to Portland’s shelter system Friday left her with the impression many have when they visit here: It’s a national model for dealing with homelessness.

Her concern, she said, is keeping it that way.

“I was very impressed with what I saw today and more with what I heard,” said Gore, the wife of Vice President Al Gore, after touring a detox center and an apartment building for recovering addicts.

But given the rising conservative tide sweeping over Washington, D.C., and much of the nation, she said, “I’m very concerned.”

“We need to make sure these programs stay funded and let people know that they are worthwhile” — not easy in the face of clarion calls for cuts in social programs.

She was in town to launch the Oregon Safe Kids campaign, a nationwide effort to prevent childhood accidents, and to tour Central City Concern, one of the city’s largest recovery and housing providers for low-income people.

About a third of Central City’s funding comes from the federal government; the rest comes form state and local sources and private donations.

Gore’s day began at the Oregon History Center, where she teamed with Sharon Kitzhaber, the wife of Gov. John Kitzhaber, to kick off the Safe Kids campaign. Gore and the vice president serve as honorary chairwoman and chairman of the national campaign.

There, she introduced Ben Oerther, a 12-year-old from Clackamas County, whose life was saved by wearing a bike helmet.

Oerther, who said he was hit by a car after pedaling out of his driveway, suffered a broken arm and several chipped teeth. The helmet spared him from more serious injury.

At Central City, Gore watched a recovering addict receive acupuncture treatment to reduce chemical cravings — a program she had not been familiar with.

“Doesn’t that hurt?” she asked the man, as a needle was flicked into his ear. He shook his head and explained it was the one treatment that worked for him.

“I had never seen acupuncture used in detox,” she said later. “That’s something I think we want to look at more carefully, particularly with how successful it is.”

Afterward, the program’s participants said they appreciated the visit.

“It’s showing me that someone’s willing to listen to a worthwhile program and maybe help get some funding,” said Joan Laski, who said she is battling alcoholism. “It’s important to get the message out that money for programs like this” is well spent.

Later, Gore traveled to the Sally McCracken Building for low-income addicts and recovering alcoholics. There, she spoke with Anne Elliott, a recovering heroin addict with two years of sobriety, who is taking college courses to become a paramedic.

Gore pointed to Elliott as an example of why programs such as Central City Concern need to be funded.

“It’s one reason I’m doing what I’m doing,” said Gore of her tour here. “If we don’t help homeless people, we’re going to be paying for it in our society, in our jail system, in the health care system and who knows what else. The cost will be so much higher than the cost of programs like this, which is very successful and cost effective.”

Such programs are what drew her to Portland in the first place, she said.

“The reason I came . . . is because I’ve worked on homeless issues for years,” she said. “So I began looking at programs around the country that are really successful, and Central City Concern came to the top of the list.”

Central City director Deborah Wood hopes that support can translate into much-needed dollars.

“It’s an honor having her come and say we’ve done a good job,” Wood said. “This is the kind of recognition . . . that can really help.”