Recommendations released Monday that call for Portland to open downtown day shelters for the homeless, provide more public restrooms and benches and restrict sitting and lying on sidewalks are welcome strategies to further invigorate the central city.
For too long, the perception has persisted that Portland's downtown has been compromised by panhandlers, the homeless and people who camp on sidewalks, making them their own social-gathering place.
The recommendations coming from Mayor Tom Potter's SAFE (Street Access for Everyone) committee are the culmination of the efforts of more than 30 people who worked for five months to agree unanimously on five strategies:
• To open a homeless day shelter or shelters in downtown and the inner east side with space for 150 adults.
• To provide adequate public seating and benches in high-traffic areas as an alternative for people sitting or sleeping on sidewalks.
• To provide for an increased number of public restrooms.
• To enact an ordinance that prohibits sitting or lying on sidewalks in high-pedestrian-traffic areas from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. This recommendation also suggests that trained police officers deal with sidewalk vagrants by first issuing a written warning, before imposing community service, fines or referral to day shelters.
• To create an oversight committee to initiate these strategies and observe their progress.
These recommendations deserve not only Potter's favor, but the support of the City Council, which has allocated approximately $750,000 to homeless and sidewalk initiatives through June 30.
The Portland Business Alliance also is on board and has contributed leadership to the overall strategy and $45,000 to match the city's day-shelter investment.
Job will be ongoing
We think that while each recommendation is important, success will be achieved only if the city, businesses, police and nonprofit agency partners are committed to the recommendations over the long run.
The city also should make the initiatives part of its 10-year plan to end homelessness and include them in its efforts to reduce downtown street crime and car break-ins - occurrences that already have dropped significantly in the past year.
Getting the homeless, panhandlers and 'social vagrants' off the sidewalks - and improving downtown safety - is not a single task, nor a six-month agenda. The implementation of these recommendations should be measured over the next half year by the independent oversight committee that was proposed by the SAFE committee.
Commit to change, tell story
The oversight committee should set the stage for additional and ongoing strategic programs and financial support from the City Council and the business community. If these initiatives and other efforts prove to be short-lived, downtown will suffer even more than if nothing had been done.
Implicit in the recommendations is a promise to improve the downtown atmosphere. A halfhearted effort only will diminish credibility of the city and business community.
The SAFE committee also should prompt City Hall, the business community and Portland nonprofit organizations to tell the story of the improved safety, economic vitality, livability and welcoming atmosphere of Portland's downtown throughout the region - and throughout the rest of the state and the nation.