The city of Portland, Oregon, is grappling with an escalating humanitarian crisis. The homeless population in the city surged by nearly 50% since 2019, reaching over 5,000 individuals.
This alarming increase has been accompanied by a disturbing rise in public drug abuse and illegal encampments, despite the city’s efforts to establish sanctioned homeless parks.
In July, Portland unveiled its first official homeless ‘park,’ but it did little to alleviate the situation. Instead, shocking images of disheveled tents lining the streets and individuals openly abusing hard drugs on sidewalks have become commonplace.
Approximately 3,000 of the city’s homeless population are unsheltered, according to official data.
Portland police has advised citizens NOT to call 911 unless they are at imminent risk of death 💀
Let this sink in.
This is America.
— Emini Tic (@TicTocTick) October 2, 2023
The crisis has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and a 2018 court ruling that prohibited cities across much of the West, including Portland, from preventing people from sleeping outside if alternative shelter wasn’t available.
Furthermore, a 2020 ballot measure approved by Oregon voters effectively decriminalized possession of hard drugs like meth and opioids, leading to rampant public drug abuse.
In response to this dire situation, Portland’s local government has approved $27 million in funding for three temporary alternative sites, with plans for three more to be funded by Multnomah County.
However, these measures have done little to stem the tide of homelessness and drug abuse plaguing the city’s streets.
Adding to the city’s woes, Portland’s public safety commissioner, Rene Gonzalez, recently urged locals to refrain from calling 911 unless they’re at risk of death.
This plea came as the city’s emergency service hotline was overwhelmed with calls about fentanyl overdoses. In one instance, paramedics were called to deal with eight suspected fentanyl overdoses in the city’s Pearl District.
AM I READING THIS CORRECTLY: The Portland City Commissioner of Public Safety says DO NOT CALL 911 for a drug overdose? Is this no longer considered an emergency? Last check, someone overdosing on fentanyl means he or she can die. @rationalinpdx @kevinvdahlgren #Portland https://t.co/6eA4ykbuwF pic.twitter.com/wxEZLbcEif
— Jonathan Choe Journalist (Seattle) (@choeshow) October 2, 2023
Despite pouring funds into relief initiatives, little change is occurring on the streets of Portland. The city has seen a spike in deaths from fentanyl overdoses since the decriminalization of hard drugs in 2020.
In addition, there were a total of 104 homicides in the city between August 2022 and August 2023, with the majority occurring downtown.
Portland residents are understandably frustrated. A poll by People for Portland, a conservative advocacy group, revealed that more than two-thirds of voters wanted to clear the streets by forcing drug addicts into rehab.
Three-quarters of voters described the city’s homelessness as ‘an out-of-control disaster.’