Warehousing the Homeless Is Expensive, Inhumane, and Ineffective

One of the frustrations of being a candidate is having to watch from the sidelines while City Council makes decisions on the very issues that inspired me to run, but I’ve done my best to weigh in on the issues of the day in a way that increases community dialogue and input. Together with other disability advocates, I helped persuade the Portland Bureau of Transportation to include adaptive bikes in our $10M Biketown bike share program (pilot program coming next year), I joined advocates for affordable housing in speaking out against requiring blanket parking minimums in Northwest Portland, and I’m doing everything I can to inform and engage the public on the Portland Harbor Superfund Site Cleanup Plan.

Few issues have made me wish I was already a member of City Council more than the current discussion around rezoning Terminal 1 in order to create a mass homeless shelter or “campus” currently dubbed "Oregon Trail of Hope". This questionable one-size-fits-all effort will take $100M in public and private dollars to build and up to $15 million a year to operate. The most troubling aspect of the current proposal is that the interests promoting this idea seem to be using their money and status to leapfrog any substantive vetting of the idea. If I were on Council, I’d be listening to the voices of people who are most affected by this issue -- people who are currently experiencing homelessness -- as well as housing and homeless advocates, and environmental experts who have raised multiple red flags over Terminal 1, which is located in the Portland Harbor Superfund Site and is currently zoned for industrial use only. 

Terminal 1 Aerial View

Terminal 1 Aerial View

I’m personally opposed to applying economy of scale practices to human services which often leads to inappropriate and inhumane treatment as well as unnatural and unhealthy concentrations of marginalized and vulnerable people. There are many causes of homelessness including mental illness, substance abuse, domestic violence, job loss, low wages/underemployment, chronic illness, disability, and displacement due to rising rents. We have individuals, couples and families, teens, elderly, and disabled homeless residents. Where is the dignity is concentrating 1800 people together with disparate circumstances, challenges, and needs in an isolated industrial area? You don’t have to dig deep to find a number of alarming details about the inspiration for the T1 conversion, a homeless campus in San Antonio Texas called Haven for Hope, which frankly doesn't give me much hope for this use of T1.

San Antonio homeless shelter Haven for Hope in San Antonio placed large fans in its "Prospects Courtyard" during the summer of 2015. (Bob Owen/San Antonio Express-News)

San Antonio homeless shelter Haven for Hope in San Antonio placed large fans in its "Prospects Courtyard" during the summer of 2015. (Bob Owen/San Antonio Express-News)

As a candidate for public office, I’ve got my eye on where my opponent’s campaign contributions come from. For instance, I know that one of the promoters of this idea, Dike Dame, contributed $5,000.00 to Commissioner Novick’s campaign, and other supporters have contributed tens of thousands of dollars to various local politicians. As Thomas Piketty points out in his book Capital in the 21st Century, for every dollar earned in wages in our country, people who own capital earn four. If we continue to let wealthy interests dictate public policy, the gap between average citizens and people who can afford to contribute large sums of money to political campaigns will continue to grow, and the most marginalized and vulnerable members of our community will continue to be inadequately served. 

If the wealthy interests backing the mass shelter at Terminal 1 are sincerely interested in helping people in need, they will donate as much or more to the Yes for Affordable Homes campaign as they have to local politicians. The Yes for Affordable Homes campaign will generate resources to provide permanent, safe, affordable housing for nearly 3000 low income residents. And while we may disagree about siting a mass shelter at Terminal 1, there is broad consensus that the number one answer to homelessness is housing. 

"After the house we were renting was foreclosed on, we lived in our car for a month…  living in this affordable housing has been lifesaving. Here, you feel self-worth and dignity." From Yes for Affordable Homes

"After the house we were renting was foreclosed on, we lived in our car for a month…  living in this affordable housing has been lifesaving. Here, you feel self-worth and dignity." From Yes for Affordable Homes