How Do We Help the Homeless?

A week ago I spent Thursday afternoon in Portland, visiting some of the homeless camps there and talking to people at the center of our homeless problem. I talked to people who have lived on the streets for years, the police, and business people who work in the areas surrounding the camps. The afternoon on the Portland streets put a human face on the issues discussed at a recent homelessness conference I attended there.

Spending any time in or around these camps will make your heart break and your blood boil. There’s just the human tragedy of it all. Lives altered, sometimes for years, by the loss of jobs at a critical juncture. Lives lived in filth, addiction, mental illness or both, and the hopelessness that can accompany homelessness.

Business disrupted and imperiled – one, I visited, was moving out of Central Eastside Portland, because of the nearby camp – by the increased crime and squalor. Police who feel their hands are tied. I see homelessness every single day in my hometown of Salem, and I’ve seen it from Baker City to Bend and Klamath Falls to Coos Bay, but the Portland camps are a special tragedy.

There are no easy answers to the homelessness problem, but I think it’s clear that allowing the homeless to camp wherever they want is not the solution. It’s not good for the homeless. It’s not good for the taxpaying public.

I firmly believe that making homelessness a rarity rather than a commonplace across Oregon comes down to one thing: the dignity of work. Oregon needs a robust economy that generates an abundance of jobs so that people don’t fall into homelessness and the pathologies that often follow. Oregon in general and Portland in particular also need to ensure that its policies and programs don’t make us a magnet for the homeless. A job – or working to find a job or preparing for a job – must be the goal of our economic and social-welfare policies. We also need to do all we can to put up affordable housing, which can best be achieved re-examining regulations and requirements that add to the cost of land and construction.

As I’ve said before, people who work full time are not desperately poor and have better physical and emotional health. As such, they’re better able to avoid harmful vices and addictions. Preparation for work requires adequate education and training, as well as the treatment of addictions and mental illness. A “safety net” must never become a way of life and working should always pay more than not working. Some of the homeless people I visited with that Thursday wanted help. We need to get them help. Some did not, and we need to put them put in a position where they’ll want help for what ails them.

Either way, letting them camp out on our streets and public spaces is not the answer. They’re better than that. We’re better than that.

As Governor, I will make “the dignity of work” the cornerstone of my efforts to serve the citizens of Oregon. I will do all that I can to ensure that Oregonians have the education and training to work, affordable housing, and that our businesses are supported and encouraged to grow and to develop our economy that helps remove the blight of homelessness.