Portland: Sobering Lessons in Untying the Knot of a Homeless Crisis

Yves here. I lived in a small town that was about 30 miles north of Portland on the Columbia River for three years when I was in elementary school. We’d drive into Portland regularly and often played a game of spotting Volkswagen beetles, with each of us picking a color and the winner sighting the most cars of their type. The idea of a glitzier yet side-by-side more desperate and seemingly uncaring Portland with homeless encampments aplenty is much at odds with the 1960s, when even someone working at a very modest wage could afford housing.

To me, the big oversight in this story is that it ignores that the big driver of homelessness is a lack of cheap housing. Even stereotypically pricey Manhattan had virtually none back in the days before single room occupancy hotels, the flophouses for the poor, were converted to luxury rentals and coops.

As reader Dave in Santa Cruz noted, those who put the role of addiction first in homelessness in many cases have the causality backwards:

All the hand-wringing about the “mental health crisis” among the urban outdoorsmen is seriously misplaced. The problem is job loss/precarity.

Try sleeping on the ground every night and then trying to do a minimum-wage job. You will need something for the pain (how about some cheap fentanyl?) and something to get through the workday (a little crank is cheaper than Starbucks). A mental breakdown becomes almost inevitable…

By Angela Hart, Kaiser Health News Senior Correspondent, who covers health care politics and policy in California and the West and has won awards for her work on homelessness, public health, and the covid-19 pandemic. Previously, she worked for Politico and The Sacramento Bee. Originally published at Kaiser Health News

Michelle Farris never expected to become homeless, but here she was, sifting through garbage and towering piles of debris accumulated along a roadway on the outskirts of Northeast Portland. Farris, 51, has spent much of her adult life in Oregon, and has vivid memories of this area alongside the lumbering Columbia River when it was pristine, a place for quiet walks.

Now for miles in both directions, the roadside was lined with worn RVs and rusted boats doubling as shelter. And spilling out from those RVs, the trash and castoffs from this makeshift neighborhood also stretched for miles, making for a chaos that unnerved her.

Broken chairs, busted-up car parts, empty booze bottles, soiled blankets, discarded clothes, crumpled tarps. Every so often, it was more than she could bear, and she attacked the clutter around her own RV, trying furiously to organize the detritus into piles.

“Look at all this garbage out here — it used to be beautiful nature, but now it’s all polluted,” she said, as a stench of urine and burned rubber hung in the damp air. “The deer and river otters and beavers have to live with all this garbage.”

She paused a moment, glancing in the distance at a snow-capped Mount St. Helens. A line of RVs dotted the horizon.

Portland’s homeless problem now extends well beyond the downtown core, creating a crisis of conscience for this fiercely liberal city that for years has been among America’s most generous in investing in homeless support services. Tents and tarps increasingly crowd the sidewalks and parks of Portland’s leafy suburban neighborhoods. And the sewage and trash from unsanctioned RV encampments pollute the watersheds of the Willamette and Columbia rivers.

The RV encampments have emerged as havens of heroin and fentanyl use, a community of addiction from which it is difficult to break free, according to interviews with dozens of camp inhabitants. Even while reflecting on their ills, many of the squatters remarked on the surprising level of services available for people living homeless in Portland, from charity food deliveries and roving nurses to used-clothing drop-offs and portable bathrooms — even occasional free pump-outs for their RV restrooms, courtesy of the city.

Giant disposal containers for used syringes are strategically located in areas with high concentrations of homeless people. Red port-a-potties pepper retail corridors, as well as some tony family-oriented neighborhoods. In parts of the city, activists have nailed small wooden cupboards to street posts offering up sundries like socks, tampons, shampoo, and cans of tuna.

“Portland makes it really easy to be homeless,” said Cindy Stockton, a homeowner in the wooded St. Johns neighborhood in north Portland who has grown alarmed by the fallout. “There’s always somebody giving away free tents, sleeping bags, clothes, water, sandwiches, three meals a day — it’s all here.”

Portland, like Los Angeles, Sacramento, and much of the San Francisco Bay Area, has experienced a conspicuous rise in the number of people living in sordid sprawls of tents and RVs, even as these communities have poured millions of tax dollars — billions, collectively — into supportive services.

Portland offers a textbook example of the intensifying investment. In 2017, the year Mayor Ted Wheeler, a Democrat, took office, Portland spent roughly $27 million on homeless services. Under his leadership, funding has skyrocketed, with Wheeler this year pushing through a record $85 million for homeless housing and services in the 2022-23 fiscal year.

Voters in the broader region of Multnomah, Washington, and Clackamas counties in 2020 approved a tax measure to bolster funding for homelessness. The measure, which increases taxes for higher-income businesses and households, is expected to raise $2.5 billion by 2030.

Tents now crowd downtown retail corridors in Portland. An estimated 6,000 people are living homeless in the metropolitan region, a 50% surge over 2019. (ANGELA HART / KHN)

But as debate roils about how best to spend the growing revenue, Portland also offers a sobering lesson in the hard knot of solving homelessness, once it hits a crisis level.

What Portland has not managed to do is fix the housing piece of the homeless equation. The city has about 1,500 shelter beds, not nearly enough to meet the need. It lacks ready access to the kind of subsidized permanent housing, buoyed by case managers, medical care, job placement, and addiction treatment, that has proven successful in cities such as Houston in moving people off the streets.

Nor has Portland come close to replenishing the stocks of affordable housing lost as its neighborhoods have gentrified and redeveloped.

Wheeler rejects claims that Portland has attracted homeless people to the region with its array of day-to-day services. But he acknowledged that the city does not have enough housing, detox facilities, or mental health care options to meet the need: “We are not appropriately scaled to the size and scope of the problem.”

“And, you know, is that our fault?” he said, calling for more state and federal investment. He pointed to “a foster care system that delivers people to the streets when they age out,” and a prison system that releases people without job training or connections to community services.

Meanwhile, the mission has grown more daunting. The 2019 homeless count in the Portland region, a one-night tally, found more than 4,000 people living in shelters, vehicles, or on the streets. This year, that number stands at roughly 6,000, according to the mayor’s office, a 50% surge that is, nonetheless, widely considered an undercount.

Making it more humane to live homeless in Portland, it turns out, has not moved people in large numbers off the streets. Nor has it kept those who have found housing from being replaced by people in yet more donated tents and more battered RVs.

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South of the Columbia River in an industrial section of north Portland, not far from Delta Park’s bustling soccer and softball complex, another RV encampment lines a side street that juts off the main drag. Many of the camp’s inhabitants have parked here for years and are protective of their turf. Group leaders hold down the numbers — no more than 20 or so RVs. And they enforce tidiness rules, sometimes using physical force, so as not to draw undue attention from city code enforcement.

“We’ve maintained a symbiotic relationship with the businesses here,” said Jake Caldwell, 38, who lives in an RV with his girlfriend, Sarah Bennett. “We keep it clean and orderly, and they let us stay.”

Nearly all those interviewed in the encampments said they have noticed a sharp increase in the number of people living out of RVs in Portland, a trend playing out up and down the West Coast. Some of the newcomers lost their jobs in pandemic-related shutdowns and couldn’t keep up with rent or mortgage. Others, already living on the edge, described being kicked off couches by family or friends as covid made cramped living situations dangerous.

They’ve joined the ranks of the more entrenched homeless and people who can no longer afford to live here. Minimum-wage earners who grew up in the region only to be priced out of the housing market as wealthier people moved in. People who lost their financial footing because of a medical crisis. People struggling with untreated mental illness. People fresh out of prison. Street hustlers content to survive on the proceeds of petty crime.

And an overwhelming theme: People left numb and addled by a drug addiction. Some lost jobs and families while struggling with drug and alcohol use and ended up on the streets; others started using after landing on the streets.

“It’s like a hamster wheel — once you get out here, it’s so hard to get out,” said Bennett, 30, a heroin addict. “My legs are so swollen from shooting heroin into the same place for so long, I’m worried I have a blood clot.

“I feel like I’m wasting my life away.”

Most of the RVers interviewed in these north Portland encampments openly discussed their addictions. But they routinely cited a lack of affordable housing as a key factor in their predicament, and blamed homelessness for exacerbating their mental and physical ailments.

“You get severe depression and PTSD from being out here,” Bennett said.

Still, she and others consider themselves lucky to have scored an RV, which even broken down can cost a few thousand dollars. One camp dweller said he bought his using unemployment funds after losing his job in the pandemic. Caldwell and Bennett, who both use and deal heroin, said they purchased theirs with help from drug money. Some RVs are stolen; others were donated or simply taken over after being abandoned.

The benefits, RVers said, are innumerable compared with tent-living: Portland weather is notoriously soggy, and RVs offer more reliable shelter. They have doors that lock instead of zip, so you’re not ripped off as often. Women feel less vulnerable. It’s easier to organize possessions.

They also spoke of downsides. With the exception of the “high rollers” who can spare a few hundred for a portable generator, most of the RVers have no electricity. Nor hookups for the septic systems. The city comes by on occasion to pump out the waste, but more often it’s illegally dumped into rivers and streets. Most of the RVs are no longer drivable; occupants have them hauled from site to site. Bennett was among dozens of people who complained about the rats that regularly chew up through the undercarriages.

“A lot of people out here are criminals, flat-out,” said James Carter, 60, who became homeless after losing his job as an automotive refinish technician early in the pandemic and now lives out of a cargo van. “Stolen cars get dropped on this road constantly. There have been dead bodies.”

Carter, too, uses heroin. He and others said they support their habit by using food stamp benefits to purchase palettes of bottled water, then empty the water and recycle the bottles for cash. Some said they steal electronics from big-box stores and resell the goods. They say the retailers generally don’t try to stop them, worried about the risk of violence to their employees.

“We call it getting well, because you feel like shit until you get high,” said Carter, describing a heroin habit that costs him about $40 per day. “There’s a lot of people who need help out here.”

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Laurelhurst Park is a forested oasis in east Portland. Situated south of the Columbia River with the mighty Willamette to the west, it spans 32 acres and features a spring-fed duck pond, running trails, tennis courts, horseshoe pits, and a playground.

But the recreational areas are often littered with debris from a homeless encampment in the park that ballooned during the pandemic and has proven difficult to disband despite a series of law enforcement sweeps. Many homeowners in the surrounding neighborhood, a historical enclave of Craftsman and Colonial Revival-style homes, say they’ve been thrust into the role of vigilantes, leaning on the city to do something about the mess.

They feel Portland’s charm ebbing, as the lives of the unhoused collide with the lives of the housed.

“This used to be the most beautiful, amazing city — now people’s houses and cars are getting broken into, and you can call 911, but no one is going to come,” said TJ Browning, who chairs the public safety committee for the Laurelhurst Neighborhood Association.

“We’re a progressive city, I’m a progressive, but the worst part is I can feel the compassion leaving,” she said. “I recognize people are self-medicating mental illness with drugs, but so many people like me just don’t care anymore. We want the criminal element out, even if it means taking people to jail.”

It’s her job to collect neighborhood complaints, and there has been no shortage as the city has allowed the amorphous encampment to take root in the park and smaller offshoots to pop up on surrounding streets. Every so often, when the neighborhood has complained enough, authorities sweep the camps, only to see them take shape once more.

One night, a propane tank exploded, causing a fire. Children have picked up used needles. Some of the homeless campers rant at parkgoers and wade into traffic. She fields calls from neighbors concerned about nighttime prowlers.

“It’s just not safe anymore,” Browning said. “It’s hard to feel compassion for the person creating the problem, when the problem is a threat to you or your family.”

Like many residents interviewed, Browning is a longtime Democrat who has watched in dismay as her liberal values give way to frustration and resentment. And she understands the good intentions, spawned by liberal policies, that brought Portland to this tipping point.

They include a dedicated effort to decriminalize low-level drug possession; a shift toward “harm reduction” programs that offer addicts shelter and medical care without coercing abstinence; court rulings that make it difficult to clear homeless encampments if the city can’t offer beds to the people displaced.

The problem is not so much the policies, in theory, as it is how they play out in Portland’s broader reality. Drug users stay out of jail, but Oregon has too few drug treatment programs and no easy way to mandate participation. Advocates for the homeless ardently protest efforts to roust the encampments, arguing people have nowhere else to go.

And cuts to police services have left housed residents feeling they are on their own to deal with the repercussions.

In recent years, Portland has made major cuts to police funding, spurred in part by the movement to “de-fund police” and shift resources into economic development and social services. In 2020, the Portland Police Bureau took a funding cut of $26.9 million, and eliminated officer positions assigned to a gun violence reduction team, narcotics, organized crime, neighborhood safety, schools, and traffic patrol.

There are 774 sworn officers in Portland today, down from 934 in 2020.

“The Police Bureau is the smallest it has been in modern times, with fewer sworn members than any time in anyone’s memory,” said Sgt. Kevin Allen, a spokesperson for the bureau.

“It is not surprising that people believe they aren’t seeing as quick a response, or as many officers on patrol — because there aren’t as many. We have to prioritize what we can do based on our resources.”

With crime on the rise — property crimes are up 33% over last spring, and homicides last year eclipsed a three-decade record — Mayor Wheeler has restored some of the funding as part of a broader investment in public safety. But residents say they can’t rely on police to respond to emergency calls.

“If nobody is dying,” Browning said, “no police officer is going to show up.”

In some ways, Portland’s liberal constituency is at war with itself, the devout at odds with the disillusioned.

“We want a more holistic solution to support people out here, and for this neighborhood to be livable regardless if you are housed or unhoused,” said Matchu Williams, a volunteer with the Mt. Scott-Arleta Neighborhood Association.

Williams is helping lead efforts to bring in more public restrooms, free shower services at a community center, and “community care cabinets” with donated items like toothbrushes and canned vegetables. “This is just neighbors coming together buying what they can to put in here, and it’s usually stocked full,” he said. “It’s small, but meaningful.”

Williams gives voice to another core constituency in Portland who say the city has a responsibility to ease the burden of living homeless, while also investing more energy and resources to address the affordable housing shortage he sees as the genesis of the problem. On a brisk spring day, walking past the slick coffee shops and brew houses that have made Mt. Scott-Arleta a draw, he recounted the city’s difficult slog pushing through a 100-unit affordable housing complex in his neighborhood.

Portland residents are quick to approve funding for homeless services, he noted, but more resistant when it comes to supporting sites for low-income and homeless housing.

“There’s been a lot of frustration with how slow things are moving,” Williams said. “It’s important to understand how we got here, but also how we get out of it.”

Others, like Cindy Stockton, whose north Portland neighborhood sits at the confluence of the Willamette and Columbia rivers, wonder if there are lessons to be gleaned from more conservative cities. Phoenix, for example, takes a less accommodating approach to encampments. People living homeless are steered to a loosely designated encampment in the city center that is cordoned off by chain barriers and patrolled by police. Campers are supplied with food, water, sanitary facilities, and medical treatment. But the arrangement comes with the understanding that camping generally is tolerated only within those boundaries.

“I’m a lifelong Democrat, but I find myself wondering if we need to elect Republicans,” Stockton said. “We’ve been Democratic-led for so long in this state, and it’s not getting us anywhere.”

Browning, in Laurelhurst, described a similar transformation: “I look in the mirror, and I see a hippie — but a hippie wouldn’t be advocating for more police. I sometimes can’t believe I’m having these thoughts: ‘Why don’t these people get hauled to jail? Why can’t they get a job?’

“I wonder, what the hell happened to me?”

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Buffeted by the political crosswinds of Portland’s homeless dilemma, Mayor Wheeler is looking to adjust course. Wheeler, who took office in 2017, was elected as part of a wave of progressive politicians seen as standard-bearers for a more socially conscious approach to social ills.

That has meant a focus on police reform, and a host of programs anchored in the concept that people living homeless, addicted, or with untreated mental illness are victims of a broken system. Rather than blaming them for their plight, the idea is to meet their immediate needs with sensitivity while working to get them services to address the issues that put them on the street.

In vogue is a push to create permanent housing options with wraparound services that can start before someone is stable or sober; frowned upon are the old-school emergency shelters with curfews and drug bans that many advocates denounce as warehousing.

But it takes time — and funding and zoning changes and neighborhood buy-in — to design and approve sites for the longer-term programs. Portland’s homeless population has outpaced the city’s efforts.

“Fentanyl is making the rounds, and we have a major meth and heroin problem,” Wheeler said. “There are a lot of people living on the edge, and more and more are living in their RVs. It’s a catastrophe for people living on the streets, and they are absolutely traumatized, but we also acknowledge that this creates a problem for the entire community — for public safety and the environment.”

In the short term, Wheeler said, Portland is trying to address the public health risks by installing public restrooms and hygiene stations and offering RV sewage services. And, he has riled some liberal allies by adopting the stance that the city has an obligation to clear out more encampments and move people into emergency shelters for their own health and safety.

Wheeler’s budget for the coming year, recently approved by the city council, calls for 10 new shelter programs offering nearly 600 beds. He wants to reserve 130 apartments for people living homeless and 200 motel rooms for older homeless people with chronic conditions, and to expand drug treatment options. Most controversial, the city would funnel $36 million over two years to help create eight “safe-rest villages,” a mix of tiny homes and RV parking with support services and space for up to 1,500 people.

The proposal is mired in controversy, with many neighborhood groups opposed. At the same time, Wheeler said, “I am hearing overwhelmingly from the people in this city that they do not want to simply criminalize homeless people and throw them in jail because they are homeless. I don’t think that’s a real solution.”

Larry Bixel, who lives in a 1987-issue Fleetwood Bounder near Delta Park, has his doubts about the city’s ability to put a dent in the homeless numbers, much as he’d like a real house. “I don’t recognize Portland anymore,” he said. “There’s tents all along the freeway. It’s the pills and drugs everywhere.”

A former car salesman, Bixel, 41, said his free fall into homelessness started after he got addicted to painkillers prescribed for a shoulder tear sustained while playing softball at Delta Park nearly 20 years ago. He progressed from Vicodin to OxyContin to heroin, a cheaper habit that his wife also took up. Life spiraled as he wrecked his car and racked up felony convictions. Over time, the couple lost their jobs, their home, and custody of their three young children.

“I went from painkillers after the accident to addiction taking over my life,” he said.

But Bixel hasn’t given up on himself. He thinks with the right opportunities — a job, a landlord willing to take a chance on him — he could find the motivation to get clean again.

“My wife and I, we’re looked at like scum now,” Bixel said. “But honestly, this is also one of the best things that has happened to me. I used to look down at homeless people for not having a job, and if somebody asked me for change, I’d say, ‘I worked hard for this.’

“Now, if someone asks me for a cigarette, I’ll give them two.”

This story was produced by KHN, which publishes California Healthline, an editorially independent service of the California Health Care Foundation.

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122 comments

  1. Screwball

    I was in the Portland area in March of 2018 for about 8 days. I stayed in a little town called Scappoose north of the city, but we traveled all over the state over those 8 days.

    Beautiful country and some epic views along the Columbia. The wife and I took a few days to go into Portland proper. Stayed at a small hotel on the outskirts of the city. Spent two days touring the city on the various trolley/street car system. 5 bucks for an all day pass. What a way to see the city without driving, which is one of the things you DON’T want to do.

    Bottom line, the thing that caught my attention the most, and the thing really stuck in my mind – the homeless. I was shocked by what I saw, and that was 4 years ago. I can only imagine what it’s like now.

    I’m old, and will be OK (I think), but when you look around this country, and Portland is a good example, and see how we treat our veterans, our elderly, and our homeless tells me all I need to know. What a sad shape of a country we live in.

    Reply
  2. RockHard

    Last time I was in Portland, I got to talking to the woman behind the counter at the diner. Apparently the city has a program to create more green space, so the city is buying up houses, bulldozing them and letting the forest take over, which is nice for the environment, but terrible for housing supply. When you think about the uncontrolled camping, I’m sure it’s a net negative for the environment.

    Reply
  3. Frederica

    The federal government should be made responsible for this. Many are veterans, almost all have crossed state lines to travel to warmer climates and more generous places.

    Why should local taxpayers in Portland or San Francisco have to fund the failed lifestyles of people who voluntarily travel from all over America? Why should such places be turned into dormitories for drifters? Anyone who pleads for more compassion or housing for the homeless should put their living room floor where their mouth is and house a homeless family in their home.

    Reply
    1. Amfortas the hippie

      ive spoken of this before, im sure…since it was a foundational experience for me, after being on the road, myself for some years.
      when i lived in austin, almost 30 years ago, my ex worked near campus, and would never ever get off on time.
      bus service was wonky, and we had one car…so i’d hang around.
      met and befriended 30 or more of the local homeless folks: my faves were the vets, but there were “dragworms”(runaway kids with metal faces and white boy dreads, escaping homophobic/abusive/evil home life) and even whole families, with little kids.
      the vets were mostly alcoholic…some with mental issues of varying severity…the dragworms were “crusties”…and open for anything that would get them high.
      the families, were generally, neither.
      and had fallen on hard times.
      so, after my own vanliving prior, this has seriously informed me on homelessness as a national issue.

      one thing ive noticed, over the years since…with updates when i go to the city(bc i’ll talk to homeless people like they’re humans, to this day)…is that whenever the ptb try to do something, they muck it up…and design it to fail.
      like apartments set aside…encumbered with all the rules in the world, and with ‘wraparound services’, which means underpaid busybodies telling you that it’s not cool to fuck your children, or to give them heroin(did this with Headstart, too…i yelled at my congressman about it)…just checking the boxes…but making you feel like scum…no matter your circum,stances.
      so ts the way we do “welfare”…nee “social services”…in this country that must change.
      as ive alluded, poor people things are set to default on the assumption of bad faith, fraud and being a criminal…moreso in Righty led states…but dems have gone well down that punitive and puritanical and nimbyist path quite a ways since clinton.

      want to fix it?
      take all that jack, buy land, and then give it away…let them build a shotgun house…and don’t be too, too persnickety about the damned codes….many of which are merely kickback schemes for electrical plug makers and the like.
      function over form.

      reading this, i kept thinking about the hippie commune outside of austin i stayed at off and on…200 acres some kind soul had donated to the little community in the 70’s…kept it going as a coop of some kind(never delved into the details on that).
      they had a huge common house, with a central kitchen…and a bunch of school buses, rvs and ramshackle tiny houses scattered through the woods.
      latrines and a few composting toilets…much like mine…and water piped from the communal well all over.
      it wasn’t perfect….the second generation went into drugs and aloof nihilism and caused a lot of problems….but it was getting hard to make a living on handyman things and minwage…even living out there…
      it wasn’t until that generation died out(young), went to prison, or mellowed finally from exhaustion…that they newer gen took up the mantle.
      more idealistic than their parents…and instead of nihilism, a sort of “we may as well try and do something”.
      so they organised and run a bunch of renfair craft industries and grow organic produce.

      point in this ramble is that we need to think well outside of the same old box….indeed, in the tall grass across the parkinglot of the warehouse where that old box is kept.

      and, more to your specific point….once the infrastructure is done out here…ie: the cabin/bunkhouse…i would not be averse to putting some folks to work for room and board.
      call it a vacation from homelessness…call it “lifeskills training”…call it socialist feudalism…or just call it need meets need, and an attempt at a different model…
      i need the help, and a lot of people need to get out of their crappy tarp…at least for a while.
      i am not set up for detoxing anyone, however…which is a serious thing(even from alcohol, depending on the severity)..so, i’d have to be uncharacteristically picky.

      Reply
      1. Col 'Sandy' Volestrangler

        You have a pretty good sense of it. Ilve in Portland and I know the guy on the city council who’s taken charge. I know him personally, so I speak with some authority. He’s the liberal people mean when they crab on about liberals. He has existed in Foundation World so long he assumes all problems will be resolved by ‘funding a study’ ’empaneling a blue ribbon commission’, ‘hiring some experts’.
        Nothing ever gets done but a lot of federal and state bucks get diverted into the bank accounts of a lot of very woke bourgouis people who will clutch their pearls and loudly and publicly cast spells of anathema upon ‘white supremacists’ and ‘gentrifyers’. The recession we are entering will turn out many more, but when the educated urban ‘working middle class’ starts edge-living, things will really start to burn. They’ve been steeped in 6 years now of Portland style radicalism. Does Larry Fink imagine they will be content to live in plastic pup tents and go rag-picking?

        Reply
    2. JAC

      Yes. Housing should be made a legal human right. That would enact federal funding and the tax burden would be lifted off of more temperate cities. By the way, “Last Week Tonight” just had a show on this last Sunday.

      However, I was just in Missoula , MT and there is a huge homeless problem. I went to the housing agency to see if I could get assistance living there and was brushed off because I am not addicted to drugs. And the weather there is anything but temperate. So Portland and San Fransisco are nothing special.

      They need to get rid of all mortgage tax credits as well. I mean, why should someone in podunk Mississippi have to fund the rich lifestyles of people in California?

      Reply
    3. JBird4049

      >>>Anyone who pleads for more compassion or housing for the homeless should put their living room floor where their mouth is and house a homeless family in their home.

      What ignorance is being shown. Are we saying that in less than a lifetime millions of Americans have decide that living on the street or in a vehicle is better than an apartment or a house? Truly? I have lived in the Bay Area my entire life. The level of homelessness has increased over the decades with it going from nonexistent to tens of thousands with hundred of thousands being perpetually close to becoming homeless. As a child, my often dirt poor family could afford housing, even a house, albeit with difficulty. When they became middle class again, they could buy a house. They could not do either today as all the options for doing so are gone. And the more the options or choices disappear, the more homeless there are. Interesting, that.

      Most of the homeless at least in the Bay Area are natives, and even if they were not, so what? A cheap junior one bedroom apartment runs over $2,000 per month and it only gets higher with $3,000 being more likely. If the effective minimum wage is about 18.00 now and $15.00 pre Covid, or $2,400.00 to $2,800.00 gross per month. If nothing ever goes wrong, a minimum wage working nets just enough to pay rent. Not food, not transportation, not healthcare, not anything. Just rent. Therefore, a person has a choice of housing or everything else unless they can work eighty hours per week.

      Furthermore, millions of dollars are spent every year by the government and nonprofits, and it seems to just disappear with nothing to show for it except the smoke and mirrors show that purports to be doing something. Which it is as a mighty fine show.

      Reply
    4. Mike

      Why would you count on the federal government doing anything about this? Politics needs to go back to being local, at least somebody is willing to try and do something, in this case Portland. As far as the money where your mouth is comment you made…maybe you’ll change your mind about that viewpoint when you or your kin go through a crisis of your own. When you consider all of the existential crisis’ we face; climate change, nuclear war, world war, next lab leak, peak oil, California water shortage, Great Depression, insert next thing here, having a strong local government where people lead possibly with a little bit of compassion might go a long ways for keeping people together in some sort of civilized manner.

      Reply
  4. Susan the other

    This is heartbreaking. Portland was my ideal city. My daughter married a guy from Portland, they live, and work, there with their two kids. She has been telling me stories about conferences in the commercial districts where the mayor just giggles. Sounds like a form of exhaustion/depression. This all looks like “the new frontier” to me. Somewhere beyond the picket fence or the mcmansion lies the future. Talk about tiny house communities is very appealing. Trying to inject this existential “frontier” into the neighborhood or to the outskirts of town might work. New frontiers have always implied progress, solutions, opportunity and hope. I don’t know how other people cope from day to day, but I always stuck my nose in a book – now my computer screen. And I always had the leisure to spend time reading. I could be wrong, but I think as a result of the leisure to learn I’ve become a very civilized human. I’d just like to suggest that homelessness is the very opposite of leisure – it is the most precarious life style. So in the sense of inclusion and sufficient support services, creating tiny-communities or good shelters within functioning communities seems like a good idea. The new frontier is no longer “out there”. We can’t pack up our covered wagon and take off for the hills to stake out 300 acres and a stream. Whether we embrace it or not, the new frontier is within the community. Not beyond the pale.

    Reply
    1. chris

      We could do that, you know. We have enough space and even enough vacant housing in this country to have a kind of domestic homesteader corps. But we won’t. We’ve reached a really bizarre place where we have placed a family lifestyle out of the reach of so many but we penalize people who can’t attain it.

      Like, how are nuclear families supposed to manage a situation where both parents work, but the 2.2 kids and family pet have therapy bills and medical issues and are far behind in school and any grandparents are too enfeebled to assist with childcare? Our only option right now is being wealthy enough to accommodate the cost of that situation. But if you’re not well off? What do you do? And forget about being a single parent in that situation.

      We’ve also resisted the concepts that could handle our current society. Like, it is still perceived as weird or wrong to have multiple adults living in a house that they don’t own helping to raise kids that aren’t theirs. And most zoning rules exclude options like Accessory Dwelling Units that could make it possible for the elderly or unfortunate to live with some dignity on land owned by others. Mostly this is for good reasons. You could imagine the type of abuse possible just by opening up AirBNB’s everywhere for everyone using legislation intended for backyard granny shacks. To say nothing of how aging sewer systems would fail from the added demand. Or the problems that would result from impromptu cess pools springing up everywhere because proper sewerage or septic tanks cost too much.

      So we’ve come to the conclusion that wasting billions of dollars a year to perpetuate despair is better than admitting our current system has problems. We have allegedly brilliant people who campaign for money to implement think tank solutions that do everything but work to fix things. And then we yell at homeless people because they’re squatting on public land that’s reserved for rechargeable scooters.

      I don’t think any of this will be fixed short of the kind of debt and social revolutions implied by the theories discussed by Dr. Hudson and others. I can’t imagine how we will ever get there without staggering amounts of violence.

      Reply
    2. flora

      There seems to be an industry that’s built up around “helping the homeless and harm reduction”, that don’t actually help very many homeless, but there’s lots of money to be made in the “help the homeless” niche. This is a 3 minute clip from, yes, Tucker Carlson, (not that I think he wants to help anyone, but this clip is interesting about the people making lots of money to “help the homeless”).

      Colion Noir Joins Tucker Carlson to Expose San Francisco’s Drug and Homelessness Problem

      Note: this isn’t a take down of voluntary, community, and church efforts to help the homeless. It’s a take down of entities who are in it for the money. My 2 cents.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nbj1EQJQuE8

      Reply
        1. Col 'Sandy' Volestrangler

          You should come see the open air chop shops. I”ll show you. The cars are probably their own their cutting up with hand-hack saws. Meth may be cheap but it’s not free.

          Reply
      1. Jeremy Grimm

        My sister works at a welfare office in Upstate. I should check for confirmation from her — but I recall her telling me it costs the county roughly $80K per year per client family to house them in room at a local motel, definitely not one of the nicer motels. [I am not sure what costs that figure includes.] The paperwork and rules she described for handling each case are horrendous. The computer software she must use to enter case data is so user unfriendly that many of the other welfare clerks where she works are unable to handle cases that include the all too frequent less common complications. The welfare clerks are poorly paid, and the last time I spoke with my sister, four of the clerks commuting from further out had quit because of the increases in the cost of gasoline. Nonetheless, I suspect the welfare services do not come cheap. I suspect they are burdened by the salaries of the managers above supervisor [supervisors earn a title, little authority, plenty of responsibilities and headaches, frequent staff turnovers, and a better chair all for a tiny bump in pay] and overhead costs whose details I am unaware of.

        Reply
      2. Fiery Hunt

        NGO’s…kill ’em with fire.
        So many grifters drinking from the firehose of money…Oakland, CA is notorious for spreading the “grant” money around and nothing happens but IBGYBG and the money shifts to the “new” solution.

        Reply
    3. Kris Alman

      Been living in PDX since 1990.

      I would change this sentence to:
      “In some ways, Oregon’s liberal constituency is at war with itself, the devout at odds with the disillusioned.”

      Once a life-long democrat and very active as a citizen lobbyist on public education, tax fairness, climate change, campaign finance and healthcare, I am now a NAV, able to vote in primaries except for non-partisan issues, which amounts to bond levies (because they are low voter turn-out) and “non-partisan” elections (which tend to be unopposed). So I didn’t vote in the primary, even though I am in the new Congressional District.

      My apathy is a result of low expectations that all Ds will accomplish is passing laws like the “Menstrual Dignity Act”. https://www.foxnews.com/media/oregons-menstrual-dignity-act-requires-schools-place-feminine-products-boys-bathrooms

      Now transgender males with the pronouns of their choice can get a tampon in the boys’ bathroom. Hooray!

      Without limits to campaign contributions, both parties are at the beholden to their donors. This is despite a ballot measure voters overwhelmingly passed two years ago to address this problem. This cannot be blamed on Republicans.

      Reply
    4. Mike

      The city I lived in last year had a minimum house size of 1200SF. I thought that was ridiculous.

      I really want to build a housing development with house sizes in the 1200-1700SF range like you see in the developments built up to the 70s. Everything being built new in Denver are big, like 3000SF. Too expensive. I think there would be huge demand for a smaller sized development, oh well, I just need to figure out how to get 10 million for funding…no one else wants to spend the headaches on planning for that with what would be reduced margins.

      In a town called Granby they built a tiny home Developement which is think is great. Better to have some housing, even if it’s small, then no housing.

      Reply
  5. Glossolalia

    Wheeler rejects claims that Portland has attracted homeless people to the region with its array of day-to-day services.

    Can he back up this claim with data? Because otherwise I reject this claim.

    Reply
  6. Tom Stone

    Here in Sebastopol there is a woman in her 60’s living in her SUV which is parked in the Library parking lot and Morris St is where the RV’s are parked nose to tail (Starting on the other side of the upscale “Barlow” retail outlets).
    Those are mostly older RV’s and the inhabitants are also mostly older former members of the Middle Class.
    The USA simply can’t afford to cure homelessness given the structure of our Society, it’s been estimated the cost would be as much as $20 Billion.
    Follow the Money if you want to know what matters to those that matter…

    Reply
    1. Oh

      The USA simply can’t afford to cure homelessness given the structure of our Society, it’s been estimated the cost would be as much as $20 Billion.

      Sure it can! We can take out of the $700 billion ‘defense budget’.
      Obviously people are low in the list of priorities for the US Govt.

      Reply
    2. Kurtismayfield

      The USA absolutely can solve this. If Salt Lake can so can the other cities:

      https://www.sfgate.com/nation/article/Salt-Lake-City-a-model-for-S-F-on-homeless-5587357.php

      Salt Lake’s hard-core street population shrank so drastically it is expected to be statistically gone by next year – but San Francisco still struggles mightily. And Salt Lake did this by spending $20 million a year in a million-resident metropolitan area. San Francisco spends $165 million.

      Salt lake has 1/3 the homeless population (2k vs 6k), but they have housed all for ~40 million a year (that is 20,000 per head). Have a Federal government/city government partnership modeled after Salt Lake and you can split the costs.

      Reply
    3. Mike28

      $20 billion…….hmmm. Sort of odd reading that argument after most of us know that the Biden administration and Congress voted a quick $40 billion to mostly blow people up in Ukraine. I believe it took a week or two for all those humanists to make that very difficult decision.

      Money for working people or poor people? Now that sort of thinking has to be studied until everyone forgets about something so controversial. Blowing up people is so much more like doing “God’s Work.”

      Reply
    4. Lona

      We just gave 54 billion to Ukraine so I doubt if the problem is that we can’t afford to cure homelessness…

      Reply
      1. Palaver

        If America had household registration requirements like some Asian countries, you would see less homelessness. Basically, everyone would have a return address to whichever hometown spawned that poor lost soul. You would always know where their tribe was located.

        American culture and social structure was never designed for bad times. There is no responsibility or collective shame.

        Reply
    5. Felix_47

      We are spending way more than 20 billion in Ukraine. And we are spending 5 billion per month to support their government salaries. We could afford a national jobs guarantee with a living wage of maybe 30 dollars per hour with health care and benefits. Maybe not everyone can afford to live in Sebastopol though. I can’t. But I can get a nice four bedroom house in Cleveland for 18,000 and with a jobs guarantee I can carry the mortgage.

      Reply
  7. Mike28

    If a country imports 1% of the current population every year and of those newly arriving 90% are poor what do you think will happen? These newly arrived are likely going to live in the larger population centers because that is where their support network will be. Of course this puts pressure on existing lower income housing, local schools, other infrastructure, and eventually drives lower income wages down. Everything else being equal some people are going to be pushed into homelessness. It amazes me that progressives that used to see this connection (Bernie Sanders) have abandoned quality of life issues in favor of diversity and other woke issues. I once pointed out to a liberal friend (who in general showed empathy towards others) that farm workers don’t need additional labor to compete with their hard work and that Americans should manage immigration. His objection was the price of his produce at the grocery store might double if immigration controls were adapted.

    Reply
    1. chris

      I agree.

      It’s weird so many use that example when this kind of debate comes up. Like, it might cost more until someone smart at John Deere invented a new thing to pick the previously only hand picked produce? Is that OK Mr. Socially Liberal Fiscally Conservative who lives in a gentrified city block?

      Or until we alter the genetics of the produce to make it easier to pick/pack/store using robots. Or we develop a new way to arrange the items on arable land so that they can be sorted by machine hands easily. That’s the flaw in all that logic. Yes, costs will increase if labor becomes scarce until that creates enough of a market opportunity to innovate. It’s frustrating to see so many people who seem to be capitalists until you tell them they might have to pay more or find alternatives to their preferred goods until the market sorts things out. And that the benefits of such decisions would allow us to be more humane to immigrants and the poorest citizens in this country.

      Reply
      1. Mike28

        …… you forgot to add …. AT THOSE WAGES. For some reason people seem to forget that part of the equation when making your observation.

        Pay a decent wage and you can always find workers. I worked on a farm and it’s strange that those that have never done back breaking manual labor have some idea of what someone else should be paid for doing it.

        Reply
        1. chris

          I agree with you.

          I have done a lot of hard labor in my life and because of that I am not sure this is actually true anymore in this context. Farm labor is hard. We are a soft people. I think that’s part of the reason why there’s so much violence over petty things. It’s also reflected in our concepts of what should be treated with medicine and what should be accepted as part of life.

          Construction, farm labor, working with your hands, being exposed to the elements in bad conditions, overseers as management, long hours, having unyielding production goals… these are all things that we accept make Amazon warehouses hellish workplaces regardless of the pay. I don’t think we’d see non-immigrant labor jump at these jobs regardless of pay. However, my point above is that’s irrelevant.

          Reply
          1. Felix_47

            Where I work no employers want non immigrant labor except veterans who tend to be more disciplined. Non immigrant labor does not show up Mondays and Fridays. Non immigrant labor hires a lawyer for most anything. Non immigrant labor does not want to work and many prefer to deal drugs. Employers will pay well for hard working immigrant labor. The problem is that our social system with broken families and social decay does not create good workers. Universal college has not helped at all. It is work habits, not college labels. We need to train them and a national jobs guarantee might be a first step. The only national jobs program we seem to have is the military.

            Reply
            1. Mike28

              Re: “Employers will pay well for hard working immigrant labor.” Nope. Employers want to pay as little as possible for a hardworking laborer that will do as told with no complaint. Employers don’t want unions and they prefer workers that already have some skill in their field of work. Illegal labor knows they have little recourse against an employer when things go wrong. Of course the employer wants illegal labor but is that sort of country you want for your kids to compete in. Read the history of the U.S. labor movement before there were unions. A country that ignores immigration laws that protect workers will eventually ignore laws that you like.

              Reply
            2. tegnost

              I work mondays and fridays and i’m natural born american.
              Usually sundays and saturdays and holidays as well…
              And employers will pay good money to undermine better money any day.
              The problem is our social system coddles people like you.
              I agree about the jobs guarantee, but that would drive up wages and you don’t want that.

              Reply
      2. Noone from Nowheresville

        Chris Hedges had an entire series on farm workers. And no I can’t find the original articles I read back in the day. Crappy search engine. This one focusing on immigrant farm workers from 2011 is a snapshot of what he wrote. He had other articles about peaches rotting the fields after Obama did those series of immigration raids.

        https://www.commondreams.org/views/2011/09/26/tomatoes-wrath

        Wages have remained stagnant since 1980. A worker must pick 2.25 tons of tomatoes to make minimum wage during one of the grueling 10-hour workdays. This is twice what they had to pick 30 years ago for the same amount of money.

        So a few must be sacrificed so the many can benefit a little and the few at the top can benefit a lot. And remember this was reported in 2011 so it’s likely that wages compared to living expenses have only gotten worse.

        Reply
    2. Aaron

      Have you ever been to Portland, or LA, or San Francisco? Nice attempt to turn this into an immigration issue.
      Lack of affordable housing in these cities is a result of gentrification, ever increasing housing prices as these cities have become more attractive to the upper middle class and the wealthy.
      I’m laughing so hard right now that someone is trying to turn this into an immigration issue LOL

      Reply
      1. Mike28

        Aaron, there are so many reasons for homelessness. Opening up borders to the impoverished people of the third world is just one. Open borders also means much cheaper illegal drugs for those that want an escape. The change in American society prioritizing the rights of the individual over the rights of the group would be another. Too many parents use a television or computer as a substitute for necessary parenting. There is no serious support network for those that are facing homelessness. The lack of decent health care for the working poor. There is also the elimination of lower wage jobs due to robotics. A change in taxes on the wealthy that used to have an effective rate of 50% decades ago to about 15% now. Gentrification? Ask someone homeless and see if that’s one of the reasons they give.

        Reply
      2. Jeremy Grimm

        This is an immigration issue [a component of demand] and an affordable housing issue [a component of supply] — although this places homelessness into an economic frame this is not essentially an economic problem — and there are other issues at play in this mess. The drugs complicating homelessness came from somewhere, and someone profits. Michael Hudson has described the financial mechanisms used to drive up the price of housing. The zoning, building codes, and development policy of local polities reflect the interests of the local Power Elite, who regard problems of homelessness as a nuisance costing them profits. More money is spent incarcerating and housing each prisoner in the ample prison systems in the u.s. than spent on housing the homeless. The Medical Industrial Complex and the Medical Insurance components of the FIRE sector do their part in creating bankruptcies and drug addictions to drive victims onto the street. De-Industrialization has helped eliminate jobs. Other government policies have helped eliminate jobs, opportunities for small enterprise, reduce supports for unemployment, medical care, mental health care, fostered Corporate consolidation, and worked to create the bleak conditions for spreading hopelessness, despair, and madness to the benefit of the Power Elite whose profits and power are soaring.

        Reply
      3. Michael Ismoe

        This is not an insane idea, so please stop LOLing.

        Here in Tucson, the federal government took long tern leases on all the transient motels/hotels in the city limits so that they could process the people coming over the border. There are Afghanis, Haitians, Ukranians and Central Americans all claiming “political oppression” at home so they are allowed over the border and placed in these facilities until they can find a way to release them into the general population. These hotels/motels evicted all their marginal weekly residents because they had a guaranteed six month rental from the feds. Our local homeless are now living on street corners to make room for foreign homeless who are occupying their former place of residence.

        Not so LOL anymore is it?

        Reply
      4. Felix_47

        Here in LA I work with a lot of employers. None of them want to hire “domestics.” They pay well and they want immigrants. The problem is the domestic workers have been raised in turmoil with broken families, drugs, physical and sexual abuse, and a narcissistic culture. They don’t show up, show up high, deal drugs and require constant supervision. Discipline means a lawsuit and they are not cheap. Employers do not have time for that. One exception is that most of our employers will take a veteran. So in a way you are right, the problem is not the immigration…..the problem is that domestic workers are not good workers because of bad cultural and family circumstances. BUT a solution, assuming we do not have a national jobs program, is to force employers to put in the time to nurture and mentor domestic workers rather than be allowed to bypass the domestic workers and just hire immigrants. Cut off the immigrants and the domestic workers will have to be taught and disciplined and fathered by the employers. If you want a business in the US you will need to hire your workers from the pool in the US, not Mexico or El Salvador. Otherwise, we will never be able to build up our native domestic workers.

        Reply
        1. tegnost

          oh I get it…LA…I’m a landscaper/nursery/gardener construction/ window and bathroom cleaner whose family lives in san diego. I’ve worked there lots of times, and had clients tell my boss to get rid of the white guy he’ll sue us but I haven’t ever sued anyone for workplace violations/injury claims. It’s a complicated issue thats not worth getting too far into, but if they enforced the laws you’d all be out of business.
          Plus as wuk has pointed out the average immigrant laboror is worn out by 45….but don’t worry, there’s more where they came from…

          Reply
        2. Mike28

          “They pay well……” That’s pretty vague, so please tell us what these immigrants (probably illegal) that are “paid well” actually make. If you live in LA with $2500 rents and $7 a gallon gas being “paid well” should be at least $35 an hour. If it’s less than that, with no health care, no sick leave, and no other benefits then they aren’t being paid well. In my day I worked with a lot of illegal immigrants and never once saw an employer pay them a penny more than he had to. Most are good people but there are many expenses that the employer offloads to the general public. Lower wages and more expensive housing are just a few of the immediate expenses. Taxes to pay for additional schools, police, prisons, roads, sewage plants, homelessness….etc are paid by the public one way or another.

          Reply
      5. Luke

        To be fair tho the ruling class has always used immigration to undermine the labour market.
        Speaking as an immigrant that took someone’s job :). The other side of the coin is brain drain. A less affluent country subsidises and trains its professional class and USA\Western Europe just abuses dollar supremacy and offers them ‘more’ to emigrate. What else can you do when your education system is a pay to play certification industry? Add to this the fact that our elites growing understanding of psychology has been used to mold us into compliant marks (to the point where paying +$100,000 to have functional body parts removed is a growing market) and you have a pretty decent understanding of why my experience of the ‘native’ USA population leads me to describe them (without malice) as insane imbeciles. Insane as in they do not live in a shared reality, postmodern metaphysics has moved into areas like geography and biology, the only reality that matters is ‘My Reality’. Imbeciles in the sense that like the commentor above (Aaron), (if they are lucky), they have the most facile, myopic (mis)understanding of maybe a couple of subjects, yet they engage with others by demeaning and shaming, speaking from a position of infallibility and perfect virtue, while coming off (to a reasonable person) as jumped up, petty little cretins. “Have you ever EVEN? Duh, THIS hastily scribbled sentence is the Ultimate Truth. YOU are so stupid, it makes me laugh so hard “. That guy probably has a degree! He may even have civic responsibilities?! Or be your doctor!
        Wondering why Western governments are f*ing themselves (and you) right now? They’re morons. Simple. The only marketable skill the American population posesses is marketing. Or as it is informally known, Bullshitting.

        Reply
        1. Mike28

          I’d agree with just about everything you said except the part about Western governments. They never f**k themselves. These elite individuals always end up living large. They can lie, cheat, steal, and even kill the innocent (especially in other countries) and they never pay a price for it. Little people pay but those running governments always land on their feet. Start an illegal war in Iraq that goes disastrously wrong and the public votes you out? No problem, there will be a well paid consulting job for you. Soon enough the public will forget and the media will help them back into power. I sometimes remind myself that the good thing is that’s a reason why a nuclear war is so unlikely. The elites lose much more than the little people.

          Reply
        2. Aaron

          Not sure how to even respond to this, since you didn’t attempt to engage with my actual argument. Yes, I’m laughing at someone who is turning homelessness into an issue about immigration. I find it funny that immigration always seems to worm it’s way into conversations about the general economic decline of American citizens. I could be wrong, and would engage in a reasonable conversation about it .
          But it strikes me as more than mildly hypocritical that you attack me in the same way that you accuse me of attacking the other commenter. Now I’m really laughing! At least I didn’t ramble on incoherently for paragraph after paragraph

          Reply
      6. dermotmoconnor

        Lived in Portland from 2007 – 2022 (moved back to Ireland 2 months ago, for good, thank God). Anyway, yes, 100% gentrification. If they want to solve homelessness, a pool of available housing in different price bands should be #1 priority, also reducing existing house/rent bubble prices. Rent control anyone? Banning Air BNB anyone?

        From an article a few years ago (and the numbers are worse now) AirBNB alone took 40K houses off the rental market. Given that a house would have had more than one renter – that’s a LOT of people who are priced out by tech. By a SINGLE tech company at that, never mind the rest of the rotters.

        When I moved there in 07 (before the 08 crash) you could find a place for $300 to $400 (even found an apt. in the Pearl for $650 a month!!!

        Rentier parasites and speculator spivs and techbro / crypto-pedos / cosplay nazis run the place now and you see the results.

        Regarding the ‘progressives’ who suddenly want to vote GOP, dumbasses, you were NEVER progs or libs, never mind leftist. Your true colors are flying now, and all your rainbow lawn virtue signs fool NOBODY but yourselves. Prove me wrong: RENT OUT A SPARE ROOM FOR 2007 PRICES.

        Go on, I f*cking dare you, ‘Democrats’. Affecting being upset at Adolf Trump, in 8 years you lot will be voting for someone who makes him look like FDR, and you know it.

        It was great to live there before it died, sad to see it die, and a relief to get out alive (and barely at that). I miss parts of it, but I do NOT miss the Ayn Rand ‘liberals’ who infest it now.

        “In OUR America” Atlas Shrugs.

        Reply
    3. John Emerson

      I live within 5 blocks of something like 100-200 homeless campers and very few are immigrants.

      I did farm labor for 5 years about 50 years ago and a high proportion of farm workers were from Mexico or points south already then. It’s a hard dangerous job and almost all jobs are temp. Most workers have to travel constantly to get maybe 10 months of work a year.

      Reply
      1. Mike28

        You are right that very few are immigrants. That’s because immigrants have a stronger social network and a much better safety net. Immigrants are also different people because these are the people that left for a better life, traveled 1000’s of miles, and possibly had to learn a new language. Immigrants are exceptional people. The ordinary people that stayed in their home countries and remained poor would be a bit more like our homeless since these people also never left their home country. My point was that some homelessness is also caused by immigration and especially immigration of poor people who compete for the same housing, services, and wages of local poor people. In a zero sum game someone has to lose and everything being equal it’s more likely the local will lose to the immigrant. America used to have a strong family structure and good social values that somewhat mitigated this problem but that tends to be less the rule in these times.

        Reply
  8. Questa Nota

    Friends from the greater Portland area say that many locals are disillusioned by the local government dysfunction. They cite platitudes and posturing, bowing to whatever seems to be in need of token acts or temporary publicity, but without any coherent long-term vision. The scars of those weeks of nightly riots are still in the memories of locals who asked why people were allowed to run amok and endanger others largely without accountability. The local governments are abetted by a state government that has its own issues.

    I applaud the many efforts noted in the article to ameliorate the severe impacts, however I don’t expect that there will be much progress on housing, for example. Well-meaning programs are likely to succumb to the progressive disease of kitchen-sink bests required, not just good enoughs, or the opposition proposals tantamount to penury. Housing unit costs will escalate as they have elsewhere up and down the Pacific Coast while those shivering in tents eke out whatever passes for life as they wait for new seasons to dry out physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.

    It would be instructive to see how much different cities spend per unit, and on some type of common basis, on housing solutions. Los Angeles appears to occupy the top spot at around $1,000,000 per door that has been in the news. Couldn’t pretty much anyone provide that for much less, allowing relief to multiples more?

    And then some measure of reaction by real-live people before and after getting shelter and some modicum of at least minimal physical security. Such would be too radical to make it onto the 6:00 news, but would help people begin to come to grips with what is so plainly visible in their communities, in addition to what is invisible in remote locations like industrial parks, railroad rights-of-way and the like.

    Reply
  9. JWP

    Thanks for this post Yves. There really is no good solution that will happen within the confines of reality. Obviously, building lots of cheap housing like the nordic countries do is the best option. But that cannot happen given the politics of the city and the country/ real estate industry. Jo ann Hardesty, the infamous defund the police, hardcore BLm city council member is under fierce challenge from Rene Gonzalez who is a supporter of a more hardline stance on homelessness and supports transitionary housing. The political will is probably not there yet as the focus is getting crime down first. Our business has had 2 break ins and a few daylight robberies over the last year with a window smashed this week. The homeless who have been around our neighborhood helpedus track down the guy who has been doing it all, a mentally unstable man on meth.

    Wheeler is a terrible mayor who is clearly in the pockets of Nike and other big businesses with progressive posturing, meaning his economics are liberal/neoliberal, while socially progressive. A bad combo for this situation. In my 15 years here, it has been a swift decline, but the city has been doing a good job of increasing dentity, investing in public transit and cycling, and keeping the economic focus on small businesses.

    Reply
  10. Arizona Slim

    Permit me to add a bit of personal experience from Tucson, where we’ve seen quite the increase in the homeless population during the past decade.

    A very good friend used to commute to work by bicycle. A good part of her route covered a popular bike and walking route called The Loop. By late 2019, she no longer felt safe on The Loop. Reason: The linear homeless camp that has being growing alongside Interstate 10.

    Nowadays, she commutes by motor vehicle, and she’s not happy about it.

    Me? I used to enjoy bicycle rides along our city’s Aviation Trail. No more. I don’t feel safe riding past the linear homeless camp that now occupies both sides of it.

    I’m short of stature and slight of build. It would be very easy to jump me and snatch my bike.

    Sorry to say, but in Tucson, the term “homeless” is not synonymous with the word “harmless.” People have been attacked here, and my friend and I want to avoid that fate.

    Reply
    1. Fiery Hunt

      Anyone framing things as “harmless homeless” is full of it.
      There definitely is a significant portion of the “unsheltered” (…eyeroll…) that is absolutely is a danger to the general public. The very petite Thai lesbians that (by themselves) run the Thai restaurant a couple of doors down the street from me have come running on more than one occasion because someone was breaking down their back door or refusing to leave and physically threating them. Amidst all the wokeness, there was little attention paid to Black on Asian crime. But ’round here, it’s the feral black homeless that perpetrates the most attacks…be it against Asians or Whites.

      Reply
      1. tegnost

        I recall going to macbeath when i had a project in hillsborough, the street behind it was wall to wall campers and this was in 2016…SF has always scared the crap out of me…

        Reply
      2. jabalarky

        Thank god you’re protecting our most valuable natural resource (very petite Thai lesbians) from the “feral black homeless” population.

        Reply
  11. John Emerson

    Real estate runs Portland, and shelters require real estate. And even more so, housing.

    I live in an area near Portland State University which is thick with homeless. A lot of the visible problems would be ended with free garbage pickup and public toilets, which year by year have become fewer. I’ve bought coffee or beer many times just to be able to pee.

    Reply
    1. Oh

      Real Estate not only runs Portland but the whole country – along with its brothers Finanace and Insurance. What a foursome!

      Reply
    2. Amfortas the hippie

      aye! when hanging around san antonio waiting for wife’s cancer things, i bought water, chips, some gum…none of which i needed…just to be able to pee.
      when i read about humanure all over SF sidewalks..that’s what i think about.
      add a few composting toilets(mines dry, and based on the old man invented barrel types now used by some state parks in arizona), and create a bidness trucking it to pastures to the east, or something…or…something…
      lol.
      there are so many pre-issues…causes of the various problems that combine to cause these giant symptoms…and the perfectly obvious goes in one ear and out the other.
      want less humanure on the sidewalk?…build a fucking bathroom.

      and what’s the idea with every public bench in that part of san antonio being in full sun all day?
      somebody decided to do it that way…it didn’t just happen. i would often buy something to eat(and give it away a little while later) just to sit down for a minute or two.

      Reply
      1. Fiery Hunt

        Amfortas: Ever see what happens to a non-attended public restroom in a big city? They become absolutely unusable with 3 days. Sh*t smeared on walls, dirty needles litter the floors, creepers make themselves at home…

        Unless you man a city wide Army to maintain and clean them, it’s just shoveling against the tide, ya know?

        Reply
      2. airgap

        Regarding the need for public restrooms.

        In San Diego a few years back we had an outbreak of homeless deaths due to hepatitis. This hit the national news and suddenly our America’s Finest City was in the spotlight.

        https://www.latimes.com/local/california/la-me-hepatitis-los-angeles-20170914-htmlstory.html

        The solution was to install porta-potties and hand washing stations. This took the heat off of City Hall.

        A simple cost effective solution that needed the deaths of a score of humans before being enacted. Sad

        Reply
    3. Fiery Hunt

      Nope.
      The littering homeless aren’t just cleanfreaks without access to garbage service or restrooms.

      The homeless you see are broken people. It’ll take a hellva lot more than janitorial services to deal with them.

      Reply
      1. JBird4049

        I get that there are extremely unpleasant, even violent, poor people. I’ve met them. Unfortunately.

        Still, there a vast areas where there are no public restrooms for anyone because reasons and the few that do exist get overwhelmed.
        There are many people who have work, but cannot afford housing.
        There are many homeless who just want a place to go to the bathroom.
        There are many insane people, often driven insane by the conditions of being homeless, who would like healthcare.

        Housing costs are just too damn high. We need to have much more of it available at affordable prices; having a full time job does not mean you will be able to have a home especially in the Blue areas, but really throughout the country.

        I would suggest first getting enough housing, then public bathrooms, and then actual healthcare for everyone, all without feeding the public welfare and NGO grifts. Then, after all that, we can start on arresting or involuntarily committing those too ill to take care of themselves or are a danger to others. Doing or saying anything is just histrionics.

        Reply
        1. Fiery Hunt

          I don’t disagree at all…with the possible exception of putting actual health care above public restrooms.

          I figure the homeless population is split this way:
          5% victims of circumstances with no social network or family to help
          50% addicts with no social network or family to drag them to sobriety
          35% mental disease/illness
          10% who prefer to be “unhoused” or feral

          Reply
  12. Wukchumni

    I mentioned how I saw a whole 4 homeless last month in walking a few miles on the not so mean streets of Calgary, and I hit up my cousins to show me more and they assured yours truly that there ‘lots’, so I went for a drive by with them and saw maybe 18 or 19 down and out, and looking up the population on the internet, there’s around 300 homeless in a city that has about the same population of people as San Diego, 1.4 million.

    The claimed homeless population in SD is 10,000, but i’d imagine it’s much higher than that when you add up those living in cars and hidden away in nooks and crannies.

    Yeah, I get it in that it’s frickin’ freezing 5 months of the year, and you’d want to hightail it for as far southwest coast as possible, Province-wise.

    We have really no homeless here in tiny town, but a fair number of homeless-but not carless individuals, and probably not 1 homeless person in Sequoia NP, the tyranny of distance and a $35 entrance fee keeping them @ bay.

    Reply
    1. Carolinian

      Did you check the McDonald’s? But you don’t sound like a McDonald’s person.

      When I was in Oregon a couple of years back the McD seemed nothing but homeless–including me but I was but temporarily so (and did have a tent in my trunk). Michael Hudson the other day talked about how much cheaper 1960s/70s housing was on the inflation calculator. He said that was because US land was so much cheaper compared to Europe but then the banks became all about real estate and prices shot up.

      However while we have homeless in my tiny city this sounds much more like a big American city problem. So surely housing costs alone don’t account. Perhaps drugs do have a lot to do with it and there’s an article doing the rightwinger sites that says exactly that and that Mexican cartels are practically running the SF Tenderloin district.

      So should we call them Bidenvilles? Trumpvilles? Obamavilles? Or my favorite, Pelosivilles. Whatever the name the elite solution, despite liberal bandaids, seems to be “we need a bigger rug” (to sweep all this under).

      Reply
      1. Wukchumni

        McDonalds is a good barometer of things, I dine out there perhaps 4-5x a year, but not in Calgary on this trip.

        Did try Poutine in Okotoks, it was pretty good.

        My parents bought a house in LA for $12k in 1960 and when they sold it in 1968, my mom told me they made $400, a sparkling 3% gain aver 8 years!

        There’s a smattering of homeless in Visalia, saw a few dozen today without hardly trying, and similar to Calgary but in the other direction, it’s hot as hades during the 100 days of 100 degrees and can be biting cold in the winter due to low lying Tule Fog.

        It’s the smallest potatoes compared to the vast legions of homeless in LA.

        They called homeless encampments ‘Jungles’ during the Great Depression, would still fit today.

        Reply
    2. chris

      We’re seeing a strange kind of escalation in public due to homeless and begging in public. Those panhandling are tired of being ignored and have taken to inserting themselves into situations so they have to be acknowledged. The other day I had to turn around rather than get close to an intersection where a person who had been sitting on the median begging suddenly started kicking stopped cars and screaming at drivers. Or the begging people with kids who litter the parking lots where we buy groceries. Or the homeless people who have taken to scaring runners on park trails. The response is more surveillance and more draconian rules for what is permissible in public.

      Reply
      1. Fiery Hunt

        Surveillance?? WTF does that do?

        What’s needed is more COMMUNITY.

        Community that says “This is not acceptible.”
        Empowering people to say “Get off the (familyblog) sidewalk!” or “Get out of the (familyblog) street!” Community that says here’s what we can do…(shelters, health care, addiction help) and here’s what you can’t do…public space camping, panhandling, threatening or abusive behavior.

        In the end, it’s about what we, as a society, deem moral.

        And right now, the corruption, the disregard, the damage to both the homeless and the rest of us is saying we have no moral code.

        Reply
        1. chris

          I don’t know why the owners of the property where homeless people or those begging in parking lots think security cameras will help. But the response to these issues where I live is almost standardized now.

          First, they put up signs and cameras to alert those begging in public that they’re not supposed to be there. Then, they tear out all the grass in the medians and any trees, and put pavers down so it’s uncomfortable and hot if you stay in the parking lot. Then they have police do drive-bys until the people who used to get in that parking lot get the message and leave. None of it is intended to help. But it does make the point that the underclass should not exist in those spaces.

          Reply
        2. jabalarky

          Absolutely, what we need is more suburban psychopath vigilantes wandering around yelling at people. That’ll get everything right fixed up.

          Reply
          1. Fiery Hunt

            I live in Oakland, not some suburb.
            And yeah, more people need to be called on their anti-society, anti-responsibility bullshit.

            Jackass.

            Reply
  13. bulfinch

    In large part, I blame the modern American landscape, which has become increasingly alienating. Our natural environment was long ago captured & overdeveloped by various interests over the millennia, rended and slathered over in bitumen and poxed with anonymous, institutional-looking commercial architecture, signage and light pollution in automobile-centric city plans. It’s brutal to the psyche, and I do believe people seek relief from it in sometimes/often unhealthy ways which lead to self-destruction/dispossession.

    Reply
    1. Fiery Hunt

      Yep.
      We’ve been doing it wrong for a loooooong time.
      And it’s starting to wear us down at the seams.

      Reply
  14. Grumpy Meezer

    I work around the Portland area and grew up across the river in Vancouver in the 1990’s.
    I was priced out years ago and moved further north, maybe where Yves lived. That too is now unattainable for many average workers like me.

    The crime, trashed RVs, graffitti and garbage everywhere has ruined a once beautiful part of the country.

    The solution is above my paygrade also, although like many here I believe social housing and addiction treatment would go a long way.

    The general attitude I notice around is getting angrier, compassion fatigue is a very real thing especially so when a person is directly impacted (car stolen, house broken into)

    I fear that the growing anger and resentment will soon reach a boil and the retribution will be very nasty.

    Reply
  15. John Emerson

    A friend has toild me that qwqhen she was in Salt Lake City she saw almost no homeless. I don’t know the details but have been told that their policy is to find housing first and deal with substance abuse next.

    Portland does all kinds of nice things but hasn’t provided housing.

    Reply
  16. Aaron

    I agree with Yves that this article lacks a big picture, zooming out analysis of why homelessness exists in it’s current state. Housing prices are driven by national and international trends in our capitalist system.

    Reply
  17. fm

    As Yves notes, houselessness is caused by unaffordability. Portland is plagued by a bad case of Opportunity Zones (see https://www.bizjournals.com/portland/news/2021/10/13/only-the-rich-can-play-david-wessel-portland.html), Business Improvement Districts (see https://www.teenvogue.com/story/business-improvement-districts-policing ) and other forms of capture by developers, and so on (https://www.oregonlive.com/portland/2022/06/portland-to-conduct-large-homeless-sweeps-citywide-after-testing-strategy-in-old-town.html).

    Reply
  18. Bugs

    Strict taxes, caps on wealth, realistic minimum wages and rational industrial policy would end this in than 5 years. That can’t come from only the fair state of Oregon or the city of Portland, by any means.

    Reply
  19. Sea Sched

    I worked at a homeless youth clinic in Portland during the early 2000’s. We did a lot of STI testing/education, acute health care (antibiotics, abscess I&D, etc), and at the time I remember being surprised at how young the homeless population was in that city. Much younger than in Chicago or on the east coast.
    And then GW Bush got elected. And all of a sudden the patients showing up at the homeless youth clinic were middle aged/much older. Bush’s policies directly caused a large segment of the population to lose their jobs, their healthcare benefits. And all of a sudden white suburbanites had to seek healthcare at a free clinic that catered to transgender youth and would get offended by our standard questions of whether they were sexually active, and if so, if it was with men, women, or both…
    It sounds like it has all worsened from there…

    Reply
  20. howseth

    Howie here in Santa Cruz – Santa Cruz sounds just like Portland – with similar outcomes. We live a block away from the city’s biggest homeless (and service shelter) – so see a steady stream of new arrivals in the neighborhood – who use those services – but also head to our river front – and nearby woods to set up camp.

    As Dave (also) in Santa Cruz, says,
    “Try sleeping on the ground every night and then trying to do a minimum-wage job. You will need something for the pain (how about some cheap fentanyl?) and something to get through the workday (a little crank is cheaper than Starbucks). A mental breakdown becomes almost inevitable…”

    I don’t see these destitute being able to afford any housing! Considering their daily life. Housing and/our decent campsites need to be just offered – as well as services. BUT, Where you gonna build it in a wealthy town like Santa Cruz? Who wants the problems – potential problems in their neighborhood?
    We live in a affordable housing complex – and feel very fortunate – but we still have to pay $1100 a month – a Santa Cruz bargain! In return we make sure we see who is around us – if we step outside at night.

    If I was in ‘charge of it all’ – I would take $100 – $200 billion from the (damn) military budget – and build the housing needed – with services for the destitute… before I was rubbed out for my sins.

    Reply
    1. JAC

      “f I was in ‘charge of it all’ – I would take $100 – $200 billion from the (damn) military budget – and build the housing needed – with services for the destitute… before I was rubbed out for my sins.

      Ending the mortgage tax credit would provide over $500 million.

      Reply
      1. chris

        I like the idea of keeping the SALT cap, keeping the mortgage deduction, AND providing a renter’s tax break like the mortgage deduction. Basically we give everyone who pays for housing a tax credit. And then, we keep a lid on prices by having the insured loan size lowered. No more federally supported loans for high priced houses. Set the cap at reasonable limits to force prices to come down for anyone getting a mortgage. And as long as I’m wishing for things that will never happen, let’s prevent PE from hoarding real assets.

        Reply
    2. jabalarky

      The endgame for capitalism in North America is to declare homelessness to be illegal. Then, cops will be encouraged to arrest the homeless so that they can be put to work as prisoner-slaves.

      Reply
  21. Thistlebreath

    The Professional Managerial Class has moved from apathy to outrage–at having to view the results of their go along, get along drift rightward. Rumor has it that Chesa got booted from SF’s DA duties thanks to two Sandhill Rd. types who were offended by the sight of the fallout from their privileged surveillance capitalism profits.

    Worse is certain.

    I support Laura Leigh’s Wild Horse Education non profit. She files lawsuits. Because the hideous gulags in which allegedly federally protected free roaming horses and burros languish are now rife with deadly diseases, unreported Mengel-ish surgical procedures, etc. There are now more formerly free animals in captivity than the wild. For the cause, follow the money: big beef, big oil, big mining.

    The horses and burros are just a trial run. Anyone who thinks we are not next should enroll in a sobriety program.

    Reply
  22. JustAnotherVolunteer

    I live in a mid-sized Oregon city south of Portland with many of the same issues and I’ve noticed a couple of things that exacerbate our homeless crisis.

    City planning and urban growth boundaries favor “missing middle” and market rate new construction and come with the loss of older/cheaper housing options. There is no incentive to use limited and expensive real estate to create affordable housing.

    Changes in drug policy without matching increases in out patient options and treatment mandates are a disaster – not just for the city but for the individuals caught up in addiction. Jail isn’t the answer but neither is the street.

    Consolidation of services for the whole county within the city itself attracts and holds fragile populations and undercuts their original (local/family) support systems. People want to be close to existing support resources.

    The relatively benign weather and rich service mix attract a lot of additional folks from outside the county/state. Bus ticket therapy is over stated and inbound stats show a real issue.

    The more you do to help, the deeper the hole. I don’t know how you fix this.

    Reply
    1. Joe Well

      >>The more you do to help, the deeper the hole. I don’t know how you fix this.

      This is exactly the problem with local solutions, and even state-level solutions.

      We need a federal response or there is a justified fear that better services will just lead to more homeless people in your town or state.

      If only we had a Democratic presidency and majority in both houses of Congress because they care about people /s. By the way did you see Nancy Pelosi on Drag Race? /s

      Reply
  23. JEHR

    In NB tiny homes have been built for the homeless; let’s hope that there will come a time when a home doesn’t have to be “tiny” to be available for anyone who needs a home.

    Reply
  24. Karl

    National economic policy, for good or ill right now (mostly the latter) is to increase interest rates in order to “crush demand” and thereby tame inflation (along with many other adverse consequences). The Fed leaves these consequences to cities to deal with on slimmer recessionary city budgets. One such consequence is more evictions from a rise in the jobless and an increase in homeless.

    I lived in Portland for 30 years (until last year) and marveled at the rapid increase in home prices and city rents year after year. When I left (I could see the writing on the wall) a typical 1BR apartment in a good neighborhood could easily command $1500 or more per month. Given the median individual income in Portland of ~$3K/month you can see the problem. This isn’t helped by Portland’s urban growth boundary (which citizens have consistently supported to limit sprawl), and massive property-tax-supported Metro bond issues to permanently acquire green spaces within that boundary, thus constraining the supply of cheap affordable land for home building. Up until recently, Portland was seen nationally as a desirable place to live, and its population grew and grew. Supply and demand has brought us to this point.

    As NC’s readers know, Fed policies have resulted in consistent increases in the commercial and residential mortgage profits of the banking system. Fed purchases of residential mortgage bonds get recycled into the mortgage market, creating commercial and residential asset inflation, and huge profits for banks and the rentier class. But the risks and costs are externalized, i.e. borne “elsewhere.” Fed creates asset inflation, raises interest rates to counter the problem it created. Banks profit, pay little cost, and if they get into trouble, they get bailed out. If cities get into trouble, they need to declare bankruptcy. This asymmetry is a growing cancer in the Republic with huge political ramifications.

    The problems the Fed creates could be alleviated if the Fed was required to buy Muni Bonds and add them to its balance sheets whenever it raises interest rates. That would at least help cities weather recessions, provide counter-cyclical support services for the jobless, and shield cities from the higher interest rates on their bond debt. Surely, if the Fed can purchase toxic bank assets–and Treasuries (e.g. for Ukraine arms purchases) — it can purchase State and local bonds, right?

    Incidentally, the $45 billion we are sending to Ukraine for 3 months worth of support is almost exactly the entire Federal HUD budget ($44 Billion) for an entire year. Does anyone see a problem here?

    Reply
    1. Noone from Nowheresville

      I think it’s to further reorder US society across all states and territories, and by extension, to reorder the world. Crushing demand is merely an excuse. Crushing global labor, who couldn’t thunk it.

      Imagine all those countries which will end up in turmoil and needing loans in order to remain in the global pecking order. Plus the added benefit of those who have a lot of cash will see their money multiply faster. At the US local level, soon the national media campaign to shame and scapegoat those who fall through the cracks faster than before will begin in earnest. Zuccotti Park media coverage and purposeful elite response to being publicly challenged on steroids.

      National economic policy, for good or ill right now (mostly the latter) is to increase interest rates in order to “crush demand”

      Reply
  25. chris

    Slate published a story today on the same kind of topic. As is usual with Slate, the inherent privilege in the author’s thesis is completely ignored. What if your kid needed that laptop for school? What if that was the only way you could work? What if, oh, I don’t know, we’re in the middle of a chip shortage and replacing things like laptops and iPads isn’t trivial?

    I’m not in favor of hurting the poor and the desperate for stealing my property. But I can’t abide them coming into my home to steal and destroy either. The current state of affairs can’t be considered acceptable by any tax paying citizen living with these kind of conditions.

    Reply
    1. Fiery Hunt

      It’s not acceptable.
      EVER.

      And most of it is driven not by some intrinsic need to survive but a selfish desire for this or that, be it the next high or whatever. It’s complete disregard for others that’s killing, not only this country, but the world.

      It’s why I’m always angry.
      We should be better than this.

      Reply
  26. c_heale

    If all those billions sent to Ukraine had been spent on veterans, that would have helped the homeless problem.

    Reply
  27. Adam Eran

    There are lots of unmentioned drivers here. Examples:
    1. Richard Nixon put a moratorium on federally-build affordable housing

    2. As he was cutting rich people’s income tax in half (and with his successor, raising payroll taxes eightfold), Reagan cut HUD’s affordable housing budget 75%. This is shortly after the U.S. (and yes, California under Reagan’s governorship) evicted the mentally ill from the asylums.

    3. The shortage is a problem of distribution, not lack of resources. I’ve read San Francisco has five times the vacant housing as its homeless population.

    4. Crappy affordable housing programs predated even Nixon.
    5. Why on earth are commercial developments exclusively commercial. Why don’t those malls have a second (or third, or fourth) story of housing? Yes, the businesses don’t want to have to manage “mixed-use” but the ones that do are more profitable than the single-use malls (which are failing, thanks to the internet).

    Reply
  28. Marco

    An anecdote about Portland housing supply and dense new construction. One of the things that stand out with Portland vs Seattle or Vancouver BC is the lack of high-rise towers being built in the inner core (think Pearl, NW Alphabet/Nob Hill, Goose Hollow, Lloyd’s Center etc) Most new construction over 8 floors is vehemently opposed by Nimby Libs living in Single Fam homes perched in the West Hills facing east who are apoplectic over views spoiled of the Cascades. Hence the only new tower over 30 floors is a Ritz Carlton Residences! I’m sure that will put a dent in supply. Joking aside the city is trying to expedite affordable housing with a new 220+ building right next to me originally slated as luxury but now 100% affordable at 40% median income (about $25K annual income a year!!) . A step in the right direction but not fast enough unfortunately.

    Reply
    1. chris

      I feel like if they’re built and as affordable as you say, we’ll see a real life example of the NYT pitch bot in action… “my newest hire is no longer suffering due to high rent, when is it OK to cut their wages?”

      Reply
  29. David in Santa Cruz

    Lots of good comments (and thanks for the shout-out, Yves!), but we really do need to look deep into the dark heart of neoliberalism if we seek the causes of our current Zombie Apocalypse.

    America’s self-anointed elites have railed for decades about “welfare queens” and “deplorables” and the unenlightened and greedy worker. They found their Final Solution in globalized labor arbitrage. This includes off-shoring manufacturing jobs, but also massive immigration — when I was doing census research for my former job I found a quarter-million H-1B’s from India were crammed into Silicon Valley, along with tens of thousands of Chinese, Taiwanese, Russians, and Eastern Europeans. All of this puts a squeeze on jobs and housing.

    I often drive around in an 35-year old car that is now considered “vintage,” and our local urban outdoorsmen absolutely love. A person wearing rags will often saunter up to ask “What year is it?” I drove a forklift before I became a lawyer and I can suss-out the folks who aren’t floridly dangerous and I’ll engage. Most of them had a job and once owned a similar car before falling on hard times. Why shouldn’t every person over the age of 55 have the right to a modest apartment and medical care?

    Those hard times nearly inevitably result in turning to street drugs to get through the night and to get up for the day — and open borders for manufactured goods mean that fentanyl, heroin, and meth come across by the ton in great big semi-trailers hidden among the bluejeans and the bandages that American workers used to make, drugs compounded from precursors formulated in China and shipped via container to Mexican industrial chemical labs.

    That Pentagon budget is a trillion dollars when you add the VA. Our elites do not care at all for their fellow Americans. Washington DC created this Zombie Apocalypse and our cities are impotently twisting in the wind…

    Reply
    1. Acacia

      I lived for some years in Frisco, Berkeley, Santa Cruz, and like many others here I saw the homeless problem slowly get worse. I was repeatedly jolted by the “they are on the street because they too lazy/crazy/want to be there” line, and eventually stopped arguing with the people who would proclaim such things. When I return to California now… well… it’s just breathtaking how grim conditions have become.

      Agree strongly with what David is saying, above, and especially the penultimate sentence: all of this is happening by design. The elites and even many of the middle class do not care at all about this problem. Worse, even, they consider it some kind of terrible nuisance, that the homeless are somehow getting in the way of their urban outing to buy more goodies, etc. They are indignant that some homeless person dared to cross their path.

      Amfortas’ idea for ad hoc communes, above, makes a lot of sense as a way to try and do something about this. Implementation and discipline would seem to be the tricky parts.

      Reply
    2. Mark Sanders

      Seems to me billionaires started appearing at the same time that homelessness began to get out of hand. Might be a coincidence, but I doubt it.

      Reply
  30. some are just vile

    @Fiery Hunt

    Ever see a bathroom inhabited by the wealthy entitled in some entertainment venue after just two hours – piss, clogged toilets, and toilet paper everywhere.

    Who do you think you are, outside of your Fiery Hunt of scapegoating the increasing impoverished and homeless?

    Reply
    1. Onward to Dystopia

      I very rarely comment, but I agree entirely. His/her comments on this are just foul. That’s the only word for it.

      Reply
    2. Fiery Hunt

      Don’t know where you got the impression I was “scapegoating the increasing impoverished and homeless” when I suggested that unmanned public toilets are untenable.That’s just your bias showing itself. Any public toilet in a big city becomes a hellhole. That’s just a fact.

      But i do guarantee it wasn’t commuters who shut down BART escalators clogged with piss and feces.

      Reply
  31. Gusgus 2021

    There are pictures of LA in the 40s called the jalopy jungle ,it is beyond me how for 70 plus years downtown LA has such a problem .
    I know they dont care about people but I know it effects property values, I would think they care about that .

    Reply
  32. Holly

    I was born, raised and lived most of my life in a suburb west of Portland and the cost of houses and rent have done nothing but rise sky high for decades. That aside, we could do something for the homeless if we had the will and this is what we lack. Our system is set up to have us look down on the homeless or unemployed. Portland (although praised for it’s progressiveness) put up large boulders in parts of downtown to prevent the homeless from putting up tents there. It is not the place it used to be, at all. The US and Portland cannot bring themselves to really do anything for the ne’er do wells because we do not see ourselves as a society; only individuals whose boot straps need pulling. Portland is basically northern San Francisco now. We pay a price for having homeless and drug addicts but we don’t see that, we only see the price we pay to help them.

    Reply
  33. jabalarky

    Browning, in Laurelhurst, described a similar transformation: “I look in the mirror, and I see a hippie — but a hippie wouldn’t be advocating for more police. I sometimes can’t believe I’m having these thoughts: ‘Why don’t these people get hauled to jail? Why can’t they get a job?’

    “I wonder, what the hell happened to me?”

    The liberal instinct for self-flagellation in place of actually considering what material circumstances and social arrangements led to people being homeless in the first place is just amazing.

    Like, the problem for Browning isn’t the fact that there are homeless – no, the problem is that their painstakingly acquired orthodoxy is being challenged by, well, reality.

    Reply
  34. Mark1

    I suggest more people get out and become directly engaged with the long-term homeless. You will find that much of the common thinking on homelessness is nonsense. Over the past 3-4 years, I have engaged with 15-20 homeless and their families. I live in the PNW north of Portland.

    First, housing cost is not a significant issue. You can build all the low cost housing imaginable and it will not make a dent in the problem.

    Most homeless people I have known had relatives living in close proximity that could and would gladly provide housing. However, in some cases the homeless person just prefers to live on the street and in many more cases the families have stopped housing them due to theft and drug dealing. Whether it is family provided housing or government provided housing (that prohibits drug use), most homeless would prefer to stay on the street in order to keep taking drugs.

    Most people are homeless due to drug addiction and/or mental illness. It is rare that people are homeless long term due to job loss or that they started taking drugs or became mentally ill due to job loss. Most people that are homeless due to drug addiction have no real desire to take the difficult steps to become clean and sober. Yet most all will say they don’t like their life and desire to change and to stop taking drugs. But they typically will not take the difficult but necessary steps to actually change.

    Most people that are homeless due to mentally illness do not have the wherewithal to change. And they simply feel most comfortable on the street.

    The root cause of the increasing drug abuse and mental illness of the homeless is our deteriorating culture. Families are more and more dysfunctional. Children are more more exposed to the self-centered, nihilism though schools and social media. They are encouraged to make adult choices regarding sex, drugs, relationships that they should be shielded from until older. They are encouraged to see our world as a terrifying, dystopian place. They become traumatized and start taking drugs to dull emotional pain. Our culture is creating more and more people who will become the homeless of the future.

    Reply
  35. Punxsutawney

    As someone who has lived and worked in the Portland area since 1981 a few observations. Back in 1991 I was renting an apartment in SE Portland about a mile from Laurelhurst Park mentioned in the essay for around $450 / month while going to college for my second degree. The neighborhood was gentrifying at the time going from working class to salaried professionals. There’s no way you can rent a one bedroom, no matter how rundown, anywhere now for less than 1k a month, and I’m probably underestimating this.

    The homeless population has really exploded since 2004 with big contributions from the Bush recession and Covid. I was working for a company based in Old Town in 20-21 and it was routine for me to have to step over someone sleeping/unconscious to get into the office. But that was OK, it was driving downtown that was scary as street people would just walk out into traffic without a care. Had a greenlight and one guy jumped out in front of me and pulled his pants down in the middle of the intersection. Scared to death in the dark and rain that I would hit one of them and end up with a lawsuit.

    I’ve lived in a suburb now for over 20 years and even out here there is a homeless camp within a mile of me. Home prices are insane, a ~2k square foot 4 bedroom near me was listed for 750k, nothing special about it.

    All this said, I would bet if one graphed the GINI Coefficient and homelessness that they track together. Not sure if it gets broken down into state and city detail.

    Reply
  36. anon in so cal

    The Salvation Army has decent SROs and other affordable housing for veterans and non-veterans in Westwood, CA. They apparently provide not only housing but desperately-needed additional services.

    https://westwoodtlc.salvationarmy.org/westwood_transitional_living_center/westwood-transitional-village

    https://www.google.com/maps/@34.0532498,-118.4490816,3a,32.6y,192.2h,98.65t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sjIRrOoNRU5HzhE307fBo-Q!2e0!7i16384!8i8192

    Right nearby are modern buildings consisting of SROs.

    “About Westwood Transitional Village
    Doing the Most Good.
    Salvation Army is a non-profit organization helping Veteran and Non-Veteran families transition from homelessness to independent living. TSA WTV which was created in 1994 is a 40-unit homeless transitional housing facility with two-thirds of our population being children ages newborn to 17.

    Our mission and purpose is to meet human needs without discrimination by serving men, women, and children in need on a daily basis. We do this providing basic needs and services such as food, clothing childcare, and professional case management support for distressed families. We offer a safety net for homeless adults looking to make necessary life changes to regain control of their lives and programs to help children succeed as they transition into new schools.”

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