Seattle homeless documentary draws criticism in Portland

A still image from the documentary "Seattle is Dying" produced by KOMO TV shows the Seattle skyline and a homeless camp. (KOMO)

A documentary broadcast by KOMO in Seattle on struggles in solving that city's homeless street camping problem is drawing criticism from those who study and work on homeless issues in Portland.

Click here for a link to the documentary "Seattle is Dying" on YouTube.

The documentary concludes drug addiction and a lack of law enforcement allow homeless camps to flourish and that city leaders haven't come up with effective ways to deal with the problem.

Those trying to cope with Portland's homeless problem say the situation in Seattle mirrors what's happening in Portland.

But they also say while drug use and mental health problems contribute to homelessness, drug addiction is not driving most of the crisis in Portland.

They maintain unaffordable housing is at the core of homelessness.

"If you have an addiction but you can still make the rent, you're going to have an addiction in housing," said Denis Theriault of the Multnomah County Joint Office of Homeless Services. "And you have some of that stability that might make it easier for you to get treatment. If you lose that ability to pay rent and you have an addiction, you're going to be on the streets."

Housing construction hasn't kept up with population growth, according to a study across Oregon done by ECONorthwest, pushing more fixed and low-income people out of homes.

The homelessness study concludes "Oregon's high rents make the crisis more severe."

The study includes information showing states, including Oregon and Washington, have both high rental rates and high homeless rates even compared to states with more widespread drug use.

"Portland has those problems as well. Communities across the United States have that problem," said John Tapogna, president of ECONorthwest. "In the Portland metropolitan area, 56,000 spending more than half of their income on rent. 56,000 low-income households. All of them are candidates for short spells of homelessness."

One step toward easing chronic homelessness is that Multnomah County is in the final stages of purchasing the Bushong Building in downtown Portland. It has plans to turn it into housing for people with mental health issues.

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