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Comment of the Week: Moderate position needed on safe cycling and homelessness issue

“If we want Portland to be taken seriously as a pedestrian and bike-friendly city, we need people to feel safe walking and biking, wherever they may be.”

Riders navigate around a person’s tent on the I-205 multi-use path. (Photo: J. Maus/BikePortland)

Our latest Comment of the Week is the first one ever to include a song lyric.

It came from Shimran George, who calmly laid out what they see as a problem with our local debate around homelessness.

On Tuesday we shared a story about four north Portland neighborhood association’s who’ve begun an advocacy campaign to pressure the City of Portland (and their fellow neighbors – housed and unhoused) to think differently about the homelessness crisis. I elevated this news because one of their short-term recommendations was to clear campers from local off-street paths like the Peninsula Crossing Trail. People living on paths has become a big problem in Portland, with many crucial connections in the bike network becoming de facto closed as a result.

Shimran’s comment came in as a reply to another reader who suggested one solution might be to fence of multi-lane arterials like SE Powell Boulevard to create camping space that doesn’t block scarce bikeways.

Here’s Shimran’s comment:

While I seem to agree that liberal policies don’t seem to alleviate the problem and seem blatantly naive, the conservative policies generally fall along the lines of ignoring the problem, waiting for the other shoe to drop. Both sides look at the issues too cleanly and decide to promote simple narratives that suit their needs often to the detriment of the people most in need of help.

The overly liberal position would make you believe that homelessness is a direct result of the backwash of capitalism, and that they’re all on the streets because their landlord jacked up the rent or a medical bill put them there, and often delivers too much compassion. The overly conservative position on homelessness is that they are all drug addicts who made choices that resulted in them being there, and shows no compassion at all. Neither idea is fully true, and both sides need to accept that each position has a sliver of truth and the reality can be heavily individual dependent, and oftentimes messy. I wish we had officials that looked at it logically, and wanted to make a real difference in people’s lives.

Not to make generalizations about a group of people, but I do think alcohol/drug use is a common theme among many homeless, and should guide our approach to solving this issue in the forms of robust treatment centers and counseling, not be used to simply dismiss these people. People turn to alcohol/drugs for many reasons, and this country is perfectly fine ignoring mental health and societal alienation that often prevent people from getting better or trying to reintegrate into society.

Similarly, I feel it’s unfair/dehumanizing to always treat people as victims, and not setting some baseline expectations and respect along with giving people agency. And it’s bizarre policy that a city that wants to promote cycling and walking is ok with multi-use paths and sidewalks being blocked. If we want Portland to be taken seriously as a pedestrian/bike friendly city, we need people to feel safe walking and biking, wherever they may be.

*”Too much love will kill you
Just as sure as none at all
It’ll drain the power that’s in you
Make you plead and scream and crawl”

*[Lyrics to the song Too Much Love Will Kill You by Brian May]

This is a very challenging topic that is nearly impossible to debate productively in an open online forum like this. I’m grateful that so many of you shared your opinions. I hope this comment thread helped move the conversation forward.

Thanks to everyone who participates in our comment section. We value your voices. Remember, if you see a great comment, please just reply and write “comment of the week” so I can easily search for them.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and
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