Last week I highlighted conditions on the I-205 path at NE Sandy Boulevard. The response to the coverage here and on Facebook was overwhelming.
My intention was to make people aware that this path and others have become dramatically impacted by our homelessness crisis. Not only was the path full of personal belongings and discarded items, many of our fellow Portlanders have become so desperate for a place to live that they built shelters directly on the path — nearly blocking it in some sections.
The comments here on BikePortland were mostly productive and I think overall we’ve all learned a lot about the various issues at play. Facebook was a different story. Too many of the 1,300 or so comments were useless and mean. So, after over 220,000 views and 2,500 shares in just four days, I took the video down and posted a note to explain why.
On Saturday, City Commissioner Chloe Eudaly, who oversees the Portland Bureau of Transportation, left a comment on that post that I think merits more attention. I’ve pasted it below:
You probably know this but the I-205 path is ODOT property and up until very recently ODOT’s sole responsibility — the city did not have jurisdiction for clean ups. An agreement between ODOT and the City was recently made and passed by Council granting the city the ability to conduct the clean ups. Why is this a good thing? Because the city has adopted more humane policies for camp clean-ups than ODOT and because ODOT has been hard to reach and slow to act in many areas letting hazardous situations grow and fester. The situation on this path is unacceptable and unsafe for everyone involved. It’s on the list for clean up, which I’ve been told is coming soon.
Also unacceptable is to sweep people when we don’t have viable alternatives to offer them. We only have a few sanctioned villages and people can’t just show up and pitch their tents. We don’t have and can’t manage enough alternative shelter sites for everyone who’s living outside. We don’t have adequate emergency shelter (outside of severe winter weather events) both in number of beds and types of demographics served and not every homeless person is willing or able to endure a shelter setting. And most importantly we don’t have adequate affordable housing, let alone the supportive housing needed by individuals who face challenges that prevent them from being succesful in housing on their own. There is literally nowhere for them to go — this is a local, regional, state, and national crisis.
Very few people are homeless by choice. Poverty is not a choice. Mental illness is not a choice. Addiction is not a choice. And our housing crisis has pushed thousands of people into homelessness. That was a choice — a choice made by corporate interests and policy makers to not treat housing like the basic need and human right that it is— but the people who have suffered the consequences had no choice.
Once an individual becomes homeless it is exponentially harder to get back into housing and employment. It’s a dangerous, humiliating, and traumatic experience that can exacerbate existing conditions and cause new ones.
I know many Portlanders are frustrated by our homeless crisis. I also understand the frustration of cyclists who experience frequent and often dangerous infringement on our designated bike lanes and paths. And on the I-205 path those two frustrations converge with some of the most marginalized and vulnerable people in our city. I was disappointed to see some of the comments—both the misinformation and lack of compassion—but heartened by others. People experiencing homelessness are our neighbors and community members. They are suffering. And our entire society is failing them. I hope more people can keep these harsh realities in mind when they encounter scenes like the one you shared.
I hope we’ve all learned something here; or at least gained a broader perspective on how these complex issues intersect.
In hindsight, I would have handled this story differently. Even though we’ve covered homelessness from a non-cycling perspective on several occasions in the past, this time I left out important context.
I’m sorry my coverage gave a platform for hate and divisiveness. I’ll be more careful in the future.
If you’re curious about the status of the I-205 path at Sandy, the City of Portland addressed it on Thursday and posted this update to Twitter:
Crews finished cleaning the I-205/NE Sandy multi-use path yesterday. We cleaned the ODOT-owned site just 3.5 weeks ago, and we’re hoping it stays clear so everyone can enjoy it. pic.twitter.com/usGZkBhiWJ
— Portland Office of Management & Finance (@PDX_OMF) March 21, 2019
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