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My View: Help homeless now

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PORTLAND TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO - Although there is no official count, the number of homeless camps appears to be increasing.I hear a lot of excuses from people in city government. ‘Stuart, you don’t understand....’

I do understand. I’ve done affordable housing. I’ve done housing projects with the City. I’ve done the math. I’ve seen the tarps. What I don’t understand is why our city took so long to finally call a housing emergency last September with 1,800 people sleeping on our streets. One month later, a whopping $61m housing outlay from the Portland Housing Bureau was announced. That was a great idea, but the public investment did not address housing for our homeless nearly as well as it could have. The result: partial funding for 700 affordable housing units, 135 units designated for 0 - 30 percent mean family income (MFI) and even fewer of those units to house our homeless. That still leaves over 95 percent of our homeless population on the streets. Even Commissioner Steve Novick’s pallid affordable housing and homelessness ideas have been completely out of touch with the issues. This is city council’s response to a housing emergency? City Council had a more effective response to diagonal pedestrian street crossings in the Pearl District.

How in the world are we going to SOLVE our homeless problem if this massive investment in housing and wayward ideas barely scratch the surface of our homeless problem? The answer from many in the housing world: ‘we need more money.’ I propose a slightly different answer.

With the outlay of the $61 million and the over $200,000 per unit cost of new housing for the homeless when it rarely happens, taxpayers should not be asked to pony up any more money for housing for our homeless until there is a paradigm shift at City Hall. Instead of excuses, the city should aggressively look to actually solve the problem. Let’s really look to meaningful reductions in unit cost. Let’s see how to deliver homeless housing in one year instead of three to five years. There are professionals who are already doing this. Let’s bring in some of our best creative thinkers and business minds to help get us to a solution. Let’s reduce costly paperwork and permitting red tape. With a new innovative, exciting, fiscally logical, solutions oriented strategy, let’s look to more private sources of funding in addition to public sources.

Our goal should be helping the people who need our help by getting them off the streets and into safe, warm, and dry housing with appropriate services. Our goal should be maximizing our impact. It is happening in other cities. Buffalo is making good headway. Salt Lake City is making good headway. Portland can do it too.

Let’s put to rest the excuses about why it is acceptable to let this state of emergency drag on, and let’s get new leadership that is open to creative, effective solutions that allow for greater results. Not housing our homeless is holding us all back. Portland, a city known for innovation and progressive ideas, needs to solve its homeless crisis now.

Stuart Emmons is a Portland architect and candidate for City Council Position 4.

Campaign website: stuartemmons.com.