Three months after an outpouring of opposition from nearly all sectors, the Oregon Harbor of Hope (OHOH) project appears to be dead in the water, due to the lack of an "experienced shelter operator" to take the helm. I wrote about my opposition to this project back in July. Like most housing and homeless advocates who weighed in on the issue, I opposed the model of a mass shelter as a step backward and an inhumane and inefficient way to serve a diverse population of people experiencing homelessness. Environmental advocates were concerned about what using this valuable piece of industrial waterfront property could mean to nearby natural areas in the long run. And neighbors were unhappy that their input had not been sought out and their concerns were not being addressed.
I didn't oppose a temporary shelter on the site, given the fact the city was about to sweep hundreds of people off of the Springwater Corridor with nowhere to send them, but even that use seems to be off the table. Now we've squandered precious time and resources, the rainy season is upon us, and winter is not far off. The good news is that thanks to Homer Williams we know that there is significant interest within the private sector for tackling this issue and providing significant financial support as well as a willingness to collaborate on the part of our city leaders. I hope that all parties are willing to turn their attention to creative, community-based alternatives that are already beginning to emerge.
Last night I attended a candidate's forum hosted by the Lents Neighborhood Association and heard from many frustrated and concerned residents. Ed Kerns gave a presentation on his work with The Lents Springwater Habitat Restoration Project, a community group of residents and students who have been planting trees in the area since 1995. Now that the campers have largely dispersed, they are evaluating the damage sustained over the past year and making plans to once again restore the trail. I also heard from several parents and grandparents who are frustrated with ongoing criminal activity and health and safety issues who have been told by police officers that there is little they can do. What the city allowed to happen in the Lents neighborhood is reprehensible. Why should lower income neighborhoods be the ones to bear the brunt of our shared failure to provide adequate supports for people experiencing mental illness and/or drug addiction, protect renters from displacement, or keep up with the demand for affordable housing?
We need to take action NOW to keep more people from becoming impoverished, displaced, and homeless due to unchecked rent increases. We need to assess every available resource -- including the dozens of vacant or undeveloped city, county, state, and federally owned properties in Portland -- and call on our entire community to come together with advocates, organizers, and elected leaders, to site shelters and camps around the city. Is having people live in tents and makeshift shelters ideal? Hell no. But because of our failure to act there is no viable alternative available to us before winter arrives. You don't let people freeze on the streets because you can't provide the perfect solution. You make do for now, and you redouble your efforts to do better in the future.