Navigating Portland’s Housing Crisis: Tallest Building Heights, Homelessness, and Community Solutions

Portland’s tallest building height limits are in the downtown core, west of the Willamette. The reasons behind them vary from preserving light and air to protecting identified public views like Mount Hood.

The 546 foot Wells Fargo Center is Portland’s tallest but wouldn’t rank in the top 10 of Seattle, San Francisco or Los Angeles.

The hours of interviews we did made it clear that homelessness in Portland is impacting everyone and you are becoming increasingly divided about how to fix it.

Fox 12 investigative reporter Adrian Thomas took your concerns about Portland’s housing crisis to the people in charge of helping to get folks off the streets.

There is absolutely a housing affordability crisis in Portland, Oregon, which has led to like thousands of people living on the streets. But that didn’t start yesterday. And those people are not all from somewhere else. A lot of them are Portlanders.

There’s just like a lot of human suffering going on. And I think people find that distasteful without actually thinking about the things that people need. Like, oh, there’s poop on the ground downtown. Why do you think there’s poop on the ground? They need way more public restrooms, very few public trash cans. A lot of the things that people dislike about Portland are the effect of us not really having stuff that a lot of other places. Right, be able to have.

I wish people were trying to do more to keep rent prices down. It’s unreasonable. I know that Portland does cater to the homeless a lot, which is great, but I don’t think that it should affect anyone else negatively. Nobody wants to be in an unsafe situation. And if we can do something to.

Change it, then we should. I do have a sister that is homeless, and so I kind of empathize with that as well. Instead of just creating this narrative about the houseless population and it being a bad thing and then just pushing them out. We need to implement more job opportunities, housing opportunities, just acknowledging the humanity in those people.

You just heard some of those questions and concerns from different portlenders, different perspectives. Clearly.

I mean, it’s interesting is since I’ve taken on this role, I’ve had the chance to hear from a lot of Portlanders in different settings. And what you’ve just shared is very similar to what I hear in kind of day to day interactions. People want stable housing for everybody and they want a city that’s liveable and that’s comfortable.

Brandy Westerman was appointed emergency humanitarian Direct to oversee homeless initiatives by Mayor Ted Wheeler last fall. She’s worked in humanitarian crisis zones all over the world throughout about her career. She oversees city outreach teams like this one who are on the streets on a daily basis approaching those experiencing homelessness and helping them move into city funded shelters. Westerman also oversees the nine shelter your sites run by the city of Portland. You’re overseeing all those operations. How’s it going so far and how do you measure success?

Yeah, great question. There’s a number of things that we look at when we think about whether the sheltering strategy is successful. First and foremost, are people interested and willing to be there? And the answer is yes.

Of the nine shelters that are currently active within the portfolio of the city, we see we’re operating at capacity any day of the week, right? We currently have about 576 shelter units. Some of those house couples. So the capacity on any given the night is a bit higher. The demand continues to far outweigh the supply.

Just this past March, Portland and Montnum County released a new Homeless Response Action Plan to combine and improve city and county strategies for taking on the crisis. The plan states that as of January 2024, Montnomah County reported nearly 5,400 people we’re experiencing unsheltered homelessness. Total shelter capacity only reaches about 2,700 shelter units county wide. According to a Multnoma County spokesperson. This falls far below demand to shelter everyone in need. While the city in counties plans aim to add an additional 1,000 shelter beds over the next two years, Westerman says improving the path to stable housing could.

Get better. We look a lot at the data in terms of where people go to when they leave the shelters, and we’re seeing currently close to half of folks who leave the alternative shelters are leading to a temporary or permanent housing situation. Now we’ll have is good to some extent. That means half the people are not and we know that there’s room for improvement there.

We also brought Portlanders questions to Dan Field, director of the Joint Office of Homeless Services. We met him at a support of Housing community in downtown Portland. Field has been in his role for about a year and feels the city and county governments have improved their relationship in terms of confronting homelessness.

We didn’t have a community shelter strategy even just a couple of months ago. That’s new within the last six months. I’m really proud about that. And so we’re making great progress in those relationships.

The joint office gets a big financial boost this fiscal year, $205 million in support of housing services tax dollars coming from a 2020 voter approved ballot measure. What kind of impact does that make to the joint office’s vision and how do you ensure those dollars are being used effectively?

Yeah, thank you. For years, it was an environment of scarcity. We had to sort of beg, borrow and steal for city funds, county funds, some state funds, and our total budget was relatively small in 2020. When the voters approved the sort of housing services measure, it really set us on a new.

Path. Since the joint office doesn’t actually provide services, field says the key to success with this new money will be contracting with dozens of different nonprofits and service providers that operate shelters and support sort of housing communities or provide rental assistance to prevent evictions.

Nothing is happening fast enough for any of us. The people you interviewed, me, the joint office team counting and city leaders. None of this is happening as fast as we want. But we get up every day and show up in a way committed to doing the work.