Helping homeless is marathon, not sprint

OP – ED published in the Portland Tribune, August 14, 2018

Author Dean Gisvold is a Portland attorney, a board member emeritus of Central City Concern, a board member of Network for Affordable Housing (NOAH); reach him at dpgisvold AT gmail.com.

Recent articles in the Portland Tribune and emails from the Portland Police Association (PPA) regarding homelessness show a lack of understanding of homeless issues, and a lack of respect for the outstanding work over the past 35 years by the city, county, Portland residents and nonprofits that have worked diligently on homeless issues.

Dean Gisvold

As a board member and chair (27 years) of Central City Concern, I resent the PPA’s characterization of my city as a cesspool. Hyperbole is unwarranted, and does not advance real solutions to real problems, but neither does the mayor’s finger-pointing.

In fact, Portland is a national model for its innovative programs and solutions, and its consistent political commitment to these issues. The city and county have substantially increased the public funds allocated for more housing to those who need it the most — the homeless and the working poor, our neighbors making less than 60 percent of the medium family income (MFI).

Further, the city and county have steadfastly supported the front-line nonprofits, such as Central City Concern, Reach, Join, Catholic Charities and others that daily work with residents willing to start the long road to recovery.

Portland already has a recovery-driven system of resources, starting with the CHIERS van and Hooper Detox and ending with permanent housing and employment. These social service agencies know what works.

If the PPA or others think there is a magic policy for solving this problem, they are wrong. Every major city in the country is struggling with these issues. Haven for Hope is not the answer — implementing workable solutions for homelessness is a marathon, not a sprint.

Supported housing is the answer, but it takes time and substantial funds to put these projects together and make them work. For example, besides providing over 2,000 units of housing for those making less than 30 percent of median family income, Central City Concern also provides medical, mental health and dental care, job training, employment services, veteran programs, addiction treatment, mentoring, community volunteer programs, the Clean and Safe program, and other services that support the needs of the homeless.

Thirty five years ago, the nonprofit only provided housing for the homeless, but recognized that more services were required for long-term solutions. A tour of the organization’s facilities and programs would be useful.

We, as a community, need to stop the name-calling and finger-pointing, and pass the constitutional amendment to allow Central City Concern, Reach and other nonprofits to work with the city, the county and Metro, to provide even more housing from the bond funds. Further, we need to pass the Metro bond measure, which will provide even more supported housing.

PPA also refers to the “lack of affordable housing” as a problem, which is true. But it is important to recognize the differences between supported affordable housing and other affordable housing. Many confuse the two.

Supported housing is the primary solution to homelessness, which is being pursued vigorously by the city, county and Metro.

Other affordable housing means housing available for those making more than 60 percent of median family income. This affordable housing is generally not supported, and is being addressed in part through inclusionary zoning, recently initiated by the city, which tries to reach those making 60 percent to 100 percent of median family income.

But current city efforts to increase housing overall, the Residential Infill Project, and Better Housing by Design Project, will not help in any way with homeless issues; in fact the demolitions and renter displacements that will occur under both projects will increase homelessness.