Portland, Oregon seems to have its own thing going on.
The city’s as woke as any, and it wants business owners to help people sleep.
Or, at least, rest.
The city has the worst homeless problem in the nation, and now it’s making a move to force private property owners to change their non-accommodatin’ ways.
As reported by local KATU, the town’s Planning and Sustainability Commission — which creates and enforces building codes — approved a change last month to require new buildings to “provide opportunities to rest and be welcome.”
Oriana Magnera, who spearheaded the newness, believes it’s time to face reality:
“Just one of the realities of Portland right now is that we have a lot of folks who are unhoused who benefit from some of these spaces that provide weather protection.”
But Commission Chair Katherine Schultz had a question:
“What does it mean to rest? Am I providing a place to sleep?”
Attorney and Commission member Jeff Bachrach doesn’t think the provision’s going to be met with unanimous affection:
“I’m concerned that this is going to become quite controversial. I think for us to put into design review some loaded words that suggest we want some design commissioners to think about people resting for hours, pitching tents, I think we’re just putting too great of a burden on design review.”
The new requirement won’t affect older structures, and Katherine noted in her statement to KATU that there’s still wording issues to work out:
Understanding we are talking about private property here, we still want to ensure the openness and welcoming factors contribute to the development.
Specific to the phrasing of the guideline itself, we suggest making it even more clear that development should provide supportive space for people to feel welcome and safe and should allow space for people to rest, especially under our current housing shortage.
The definition of “rest” was quite involved. We think the background should address this more fully and clarify the intent of the word. The PSC will talk about this further at its [Dec. 17] work session and will provide suggested language to the Design Commission after our discussion.
Is the problem really a “housing shortage”? And should such provisions be mandatory for private property? There are, of course, codes which require business owners to make certain accommodations for its customers. But is it appropriate for “rest” be one?
And how does this ultimately help the homeless problem?
Mental illness, the group reports, is “now more common among the homeless in Oregon than in any other state,” and its possible that between 35% and 40% of homeless individuals in Oregon are suffering from some form of mental illness.
The state’s one mental hospital, Dammasch, closed its doors in 1995, and released its patients with no follow up care, turning hundreds out on to the streets, ill-equipped to handle living on their own.
As per the study, the city’s headed for more homelessness, not less:
Heritage reports that Portland police are prohibited from breaking up tent cities and encampments, and the city refuses to enforce a prohibition on camping or otherwise setting up shop in parks and on public ways, essentially giving the homeless the run of Portland.
Sometimes it’s good to treat the problem, and sometimes it’s better to fix it. Sounds like Portland hasn’t gotten around to the fixing part yet. If they don’t soon, they may find that they have too much of a problem to treat.
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