Mayor’s meeting on homelessness includes critics, housing advocates, police chief, staffers – but not the Portland Business Alliance

By Denis C. Theriault, The Portland Mercury, August 14, 2013

Mayor Charlie Hales, as of this afternoon, has now had three informal meetings with business interests, law enforcement, and social services providers to get up to speed on homelessness—a difficult subject he announced he’d be taking on during his State of the City speech this spring.

Hales’ office sent me the roster of participants for this afternoon’s meeting, which was listed on a public calendar his office sent reporters earlier this week. If you’ve read my previous posts about these meetings, which the Mercury first reported on, you’ll notice something new: The most recent roster now includes former Housing Commissioner Nick Fish and his staff (former housing policy adviser Sonia Schmanski), members of current Housing Commissioner Dan Saltzman‘s staff (chief of staff Brendan Finn among them; still not Saltzman himself), and Sally Erickson, the Portland Housing Bureau’s homelessness team leader.

The list also includes Police Chief Mike Reese and, notably does not include, for the first time, the Portland Business Alliance.

Israel Bayer, Street Roots

Sally Erickson, Housing Bureau

Dennis Lundberg, Janus Youth Services

Commissioner Fish + staff

Commissioner Saltzman’s staff

Marc Jolin, JOIN

Doreen Binder, Transition Projects

Chief Mike Reese

Mayoral staffers

 

But while the meeting was scheduled last week, I’ve been told the additions of Fish and his staff and possibly others were last-minute. As in, the invitations came today, the morning after the Mercury first reported Fish’s complaints and the same day we ran our story about officials including Fish and Multnomah County Commissioner Deborah Kafoury questioning the city’s leadership on housing issues.

Bayer told me the meeting was “productive” when I saw him briefly outside city hall and that Hales and his staff seeme”d open to a significant discussion about resources, not just law enforcement sweeps of camps and sidewalks. Yesterday, we reported that Street Roots wants to ask businesses and local governments to match the city in committing millions toward rent assistance.

WW today reported that Hales, as a result of the meeting, is less focused on something Saltzman said he wanted to work on: finding new shelter capacity. Kafoury, in our story this week, said that was an inefficient way of helping families, one of Saltzman’s passions.

Hales’ spokesman had this to say earlier this week when asked why Saltzman and the housing bureau weren’t part of the initial meetings:

“The mayor had focused his first meetings by accepting the help of those outside City Hall, because (he’s often said) it’s too easy to get info from ‘inside the bubble’f and tougher, but vital, to see the issue from outsiders’ perspectives. Also, the City Council can always compel Bureau staff to talk to ’em about any topic. And they do.”

Things change quickly in city hall sometimes. This morning, in light of Fish’s remarks, Hales told me commissioners “are always free to weigh in” with their thoughts and he “I don’t take that personally.” But he also said, “When I hear a cry from the heart, I listen.”

He clearly did. And none too soon. Because the media pile-on just got official tonight. City hall gets annoyed with me and Aaron Mesh. They really pay attention when Steve Duin weighs in. And Duin wrote a column today that echoes all the themes in my story in this week’s paper, with the added bonus of calling Hales a latter-day Rudy Giuliani.