We Asked Portland Politicians: Do You Support the Strategy in Sam Adams’ Memo?

City Council incumbents and their spring challengers weigh in on a controversial idea to shelter 3,000 homeless Portlanders.

In a city that prefers to avoid direct conflict, it’s rare to see elected officials display open contempt for suggestions from another official’s office.

Apparently, the idea of compelling 3,000 homeless people to live in three mass shelters is an exception.

Last Friday, WW broke word of a memo that mayoral aide Sam Adams penned in late January and shared with various government offices in hopes of enlisting their support. In it, he proposed building three massive shelters to accommodate 3,000 homeless people that would be staffed by National Guard security forces, social work graduate students, and medical personnel. Portland would then ban unsanctioned camping citywide—in effect giving people sleeping on the streets no choice but to move to the three emergency sites.

That idea caused some consternation (see page 8). But the city’s response to homelessness and addiction is also the central issue in the May election. So we asked the two incumbent city commissioners up for reelection this spring, and their challengers, to weigh in on Adams’ controversial plan.

WW asked: Do you support the strategy outlined in Sam Adams’ memo? Why or why not?

Commissioner Dan Ryan, Position 2: We need to move forward with pragmatic solutions. There is a houseable population on the streets with poverty and unaffordable housing as the root cause. Another population on our streets and parks struggles with addiction. We need to address them differently and consider additional options to address both. As we do that, my priorities are to keep everyone housed and unhoused, safe, and healthy. Locate restorative villages and other service-focused shelters near transit, with mental health, addiction, and other treatment services as an on-ramp into housing and back into the workforce.

I will continue to lead with compassion, innovation, and action to move beyond the status-quo approach and embrace integrated strategies like the one recently proposed by Here Together. We must stop enabling the untreated drug addicts who are causing great harm and demand accountability and consequences that include mandatory addiction recovery. Allowing open-air markets of cheap hard drugs that are much more difficult to withdraw from to flourish on our streets is killing Portland.

AJ McCreary, Position 2 Challenger: This plan to require folks to move into temporary shelters is wild and will be unproductive. It’s not a long-term solution, nor is it humane. How come we aren’t requiring local government to make long-term, humane policy changes? How come we are not resolving the root problems, and how exactly is this going to go in regards to forcing/requiring people into this housing? That sounds like jail or a concentration camp. This plan sounds expensive and like it won’t work, and I’m deeply sad for the community members most impacted that were not considered in this plan making. Also, who is implementing this? Our local government doesn’t have relationships with the community so they’re going to have the police execute this, because please, God, not that. Also, I’m very curious, in all of Sam Adams’ planning, how long does this shelter housing really last? How will folks be connected and supported with long-term housing if that’s not part of this in a logical way? Again, I’m not sure what we are doing. As a taxpayer and City Council candidate, I’d like to see long-term, ongoing solutions that are community led, community centered. Shelters are not a long-term solution, nor do they address the root causes of our housing crisis.

Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, Position 3: No. Massive encampments for the houseless guarded by the military are misguided and dangerous. Improving the health and safety of our most vulnerable Portlanders needs to include houseless representation in the policymaking, like the way my office developed the Queer Affinity Village for LGBTQ+ homeless persons and the Portland Street Response. Criminalizing poverty is not the answer.

We have an affordability crisis and income inequality that is at the root of people living on our streets, exacerbated by the global pandemic. We must scale up housing development, expand temporary and long-term options, and provide strong, accountable community outreach and supportive services that humanely transition people into better housing.

Rene Gonzalez, Position 3 challenger: Yes, although the plan needs clarification and refinement.

Portland faces a livability and humanitarian crisis on our streets that requires historic action. Unsanctioned camps are devastating our neighborhoods, parks and rights of way, and act as unregulated drug markets, enabling the worst of addiction, as well as property and personal crime.

Large emergency shelters will allow us to consolidate social, mental health and addiction services, and public safety resources. They will also facilitate accelerated enforcement of Portland’s existing camping proscriptions.

Shelters are not replacements for long-term housing or addiction or mental health services—each of which require sustained policy commitment and investment. But despite very generous financial support from Portland voters, Oregon’s current path does not inspire confidence that Oregon is on the right path in addressing affordability, addiction or mental illness comprehensively.

Large shelters can provide prompt relief to Portland neighborhoods and businesses under siege and offer our most vulnerable safer shelter.

Vadim Mozyrsky, Position 3 challenger: Yes, I support a combined city, county, Metro and state intervention to address the humanitarian crisis unfolding in our homeless community. Despite hundreds of millions spent in recent years, City Hall inaction and divisive politics have resulted in the highest ever death and overdose rate on our streets, all while two-thirds of our homeless never received outreach for housing services. Portlanders care deeply for each other, whether housed or unhoused, but this growing tragedy cannot be solved with more of the same failed politics that brought us here. We should by no means “warehouse” the vulnerable or “militarize” safe shelter areas, as some assert. But while we await promised permanent housing and wraparound services, we must utilize all resources at our disposal to provide stability, mental health, and drug addiction services in a humane way that balances the needs of the homeless and the neighborhoods in which they reside.