Why Portland’s Homeless Problem Is the Worst in the Nation

Saturday, October 19, 2019
By Paul Martin

By Douglas Blair and Joel Griffith
October 19, 2019

The alleys of Portland, Oregon, are strewn with piles of garbage and used drug needles, reflecting a growing problem of homelessness, drug addiction, and mental illness.

Mental illness is now more common among the homeless in Oregon than in any other state. According to a study from 2016, 35-40% of homeless adults in Oregon suffer from some form of mental illness.

The problem is apparent along the Springwater Corridor, a popular biking trail on the east side of Portland that is cherished as peaceful slice of nature hidden from the urban sprawl.

In 2016, a shantytown alongside a 2-mile stretch of the corridor was the largest homeless encampment in the nation. It contained nearly 200 tents and an estimated 500 homeless people.

In the years since, criminal activity has become a routine occurrence. For example, in August 2018, police arrested a homeless woman for attempting to kidnap a 6-year-old girl playing near the trail. Two months later, a shooting occurred.

This year, an assailant stabbed a man in the arm before fleeing back into the sea of tents.

Unfortunately, the Springwater Corridor is no exception in Portland—it is a microcosm of Oregon’s largest city.

In 2018, Portland was home to an estimated 14,000 chronically homeless people, the vast majority of whom were in Portland, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The Portland Police Department has no official policy on clearing out the camps or relocating homeless individuals. Third parties now shoulder the burden of coordinating with the city and obtaining police protection in cleaning up the camps.

Local officials claim to be pursuing solutions, but the “solutions” offered thus far—affordable housing bonds and refusing to enforce prohibitions on camping on public rights of way and in city parks—do nothing to address the lack of mental health treatment and drug abuse problems at the root of this humanitarian crisis.

Nor is this a recent phenomenon. The neglect spans decades.

Oregon first opened the doors of Dammasch State Hospital in 1961 with the aim of treating those afflicted with mental illness. The facility was meant to relieve overcrowding at the larger state hospital in Salem.

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