The Portland City Commission Will Never Be Able to Clean Up Portland

I don’t read The Oregonian. I dropped my subscription over a decade ago and I usually don’t read it even if there is an abandoned copy lying around a restaurant or waiting room. I don’t read it because there is nothing in it. You get reprints from USA Today and reprints of press releases from whatever progressive horn that wants to honk. They are done uncritically – not a statement is ever challenged or verified, no independent research is done, and most assuredly no countervailing view is recognized. It’s just five pointless minutes that you will never retrieve.

But this may be an exception, although probably not a knowing exception. We were in Cannon Beach for the 4th of July and were having coffee and a scone at one of the local barista shops and there was a copy of The Oregonian lying next to me. The front-page headline above the fold read:

“How a dirty city gets clean: Efforts to clean up Portland’s downtown come together this summer”

Well that caught my eye. I had to keep looking back at the masthead to make sure I was reading The Oregonian and not the satirical newspaper The Onion. The lead paragraph explains why:

”It’s summer in the city. And in Portland, summer months mean increased foot-traffic and tourists downtown, as well as more visible homelessness as it becomes easier to spend time outside.

“All of which contribute to trash showing up on the streets.”

Really? It’s the increased foot traffic and tourists that are causing the urine, feces and vomit on the streets of Portland? Are they the ones leaving hypodermic needles, used condoms and cheap wine bottles also? Are they also the ones asleep or passed out in doorways, courtyards and building vents? No, what makes Portland a cesspool is those who live on the streets and the politicians who accommodate them.

The homeless population continues to grow in Portland. It grows at a percentage rate four times that of the general population. It grows because the Portland politicians – all card carrying progressives – refuse to recognize the underlying problem. And that problem is addiction.

The Brain and Behavior Research Foundation estimates that twenty-five percent of the homeless are mentally ill. They live on the streets because they lack the help and supervision necessary to care for them. (Former President Jimmy Carter (D) did them no favor when he turned the mentally ill out on to the street.) Supervised housing would benefit them but they get lost in the shuffle while the politicians wring their hands about the real problem – addiction.

National studies indicate that approximately sixty-five percent of those living on the streets are addicted to alcohol or drugs. A June 2019 report from the Addiction Center noted:

“In 2017, there were approximately 554,000 homeless people in the United States. The US homeless population is increasing yearly, particularly in younger age ranges. Tragically, homelessness and addiction go hand in hand.”

This is a political problem and one that will not get better unless the politicians accept the established fact that addiction and homelessness go hand in hand – it is both the cause and the effect for the overwhelming majority of those who live on the streets. You cannot adequately address the homeless issue unless you are willing to address the growing addiction problem in the United States. And for whatever reason, the politicians – and by that I mean predominately liberal/progressives – are unwilling to provide funds, manpower, prosecution and punishment to radically reduce the flow of drugs, the easy access by users and the attitudes of acceptance of the use of drugs by all levels of society. I suspect that the reluctance on the part of liberal/progressives is due in large part to their preference of blaming society as a whole rather than the individuals themselves. If you opt for that form of dissociative logic then your solutions necessarily impose burdens on society in general rather than the individuals – and therein lies the essence of the liberal progressives of the Portland City Commission.

The Oregonian story – and herein lies the exception – goes on to note that Portland is going to spend millions on a solution that isn’t going to address the problem:

“New trash cans, increased downtown trash pick-up and more portable toilets have left city officials and business leaders feeling optimistic about maintaining a tidy city. It’s a solution costing at least $1 million that some see as not addressing a root issue — the growing homelessness crisis.

“The district removed 724 tons of garbage in 2017, according to their website. That’s up from 638 tons of garbage in 2016 and 485 tons in 2015.

“In May, the city council voted to spend money placing portable bathrooms and showers in high-need areas including downtown, inner Southeast and outer East Portland. The units are planned to be staffed seven days a week, 12 hours a day to deter vandalism and other damage.

“The city estimates the portable toilets would cost $645,500 to operate for 12 months, according to the report. At least $615,000 of that will go to attendants’ salaries.

“More than 4,000 people live on Portland’s streets on any given night, according to the 2017 federal homeless census. The city has focused more on what officials call “livability issues” — trash, needles and camping — as city residents become increasingly frustrated with seeing the symptoms of homelessness throughout town.”

And that’s it. Increased spending to make the homeless feel – well, more like they are at home. Making a comfortable environment for the homeless merely leads to a greater migration of the homeless to Portland. That is just common sense – well, unless you are a Portland liberal/progressive politician.

Let’s make sure we are looking at this systematically. Sixty-five percent of the homelessness in Portland is caused by self-induced addiction. Twenty-five percent is caused by mental defect or disease and the remaining ten percent is caused by economic misfortune. However, the prioritization of the Portland City Commission appears to be just the opposite. Housing, medical care and job training will have the most dramatic impact on those who arrive at homelessness by economic misfortune. In short order, with economic and job assistance, they will return to be contributing members of society. And yet scant mention of them is made by the Portland City Commission.

Those who suffer from mental defect or disease cover a much wider swath and it is impossible to find a universal solution. Suffice it to say that, with the exception of those who suffer mental defect of disease as a result of addiction, they come to these conditions without fault. Advanced societies owe assistance and that assistance should be determined in large part by mental health professionals and not by bureaucrats or hand-wringing liberal/progressives. Members of our armed services who suffer various degrees of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) are included in this twenty-five percent. There should be no greater priority than to provide relief, counseling, guidance and training to those who defended our freedom.

These two groups should be society’s first priority. In saying that I do not suggest that we should ignore the overwhelming majority of those who live on the streets – the sixty-five percent who suffer from drug and alcohol addiction. What I do suggest is that liberal/progressives like the Portland City Commission are aiding the symptoms and not dealing with the underlying problem – addiction. Spending $350 Million on housing for people who do not want housing because it removes them from streets where the drugs and alcohol to fuel their addictions are plentiful. Spending $1 Million for tents and port-a-potties with station attendants encourages continuation of living on the streets. You cannot diminish homelessness by making it a more comfortable choice.

If you want to effectively address homelessness among the addicted, you need to create a hostile atmosphere for those embracing the lifestyle while providing a path for recovery from the addiction for those willing. You cannot cure addiction – you can only hold it at bay. And that requires medical care, counseling and recurring reinforcement – like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA). Monies spent by the governments should be concentrated on these areas, not in making addicts more comfortable on the streets.

And there is a point at which recidivists must be told that unless they stop the destructive course they are on, they will die and the government will let them die. They will die from the corrosive effects of the alcohol or drugs on their bodies, they will die from exposure, or they will die from starvation. And if they refuse the help, if they refuse to listen, then they will die and the misery in their lives and the misery they have caused others will end.

And by the way, I drove through Portland on my way to the airport and it’s still a pig sty.