RECAP: KATU hosts town hall addressing Portland's homeless crisis

Homeless in Portland (KATU News photo)

KATU News, in conjunction with Portland State University, held a community town hall Tuesday night to address Portland’s homeless crisis.

Hundreds came to PSU’s Smith Memorial Student Union ballroom to hear from a panel of experts. They included Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury, ‘A Home for Everyone’ director Marc Jolin, Dr. David Bangsberg, Dean of the OHSU/PSU School of Public Health, and Ellie Hayes, a homeless advocate with Human Solutions Family Center. Hayes also experienced homelessness for a time.

There was no shortage of issues and topics to discuss. Many community members expressed frustration with some of the negative side effects of homelessness.

“We had a terrible safety issue with our park,” said T.J. Browning with the Laurelhurst Neighborhood Association. “Used syringes on our playground. Two weeks ago, I picked up 31.”

On the flip side, there were pleas for compassion.

“People didn’t even see me,” said Ellie Hayes, talking about the time she was homeless. “People wouldn’t talk to me. They acted like they were afraid of me. They’d walk across the street when I’d walk down the street.”

KATU News heard from many viewers and audience members who wanted to know why Portland was so attractive to the homeless. But Kafoury pushed back on that idea.

“I call it the magnet myth,” said Kafoury. “People are not moving to Portland because of some internet page that says Portland is the best place to be homeless.”

Kafoury said her staff had done research indicating many other cities across the country are also called “magnets for homelessness.”

Despite the sometimes tense discussion, and the lack of easy answers, some expressed optimism

“I think it is solvable,” said Kafoury. “It’s going to take the will of all of us in this room, all of us in the community.”

“I have absolute faith that this is solvable,” said Hayes. “I might not know the answers but I know that with get-togethers like this, we’re going to figure it out. If I didn’t believe that it was fixable, I wouldn’t be here.”


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