Homeless people living in Portland, Oregon, are saying that even though they want to get off of the streets, they often can’t because their criminal records are so extensive.
“Because I have such an extensive criminal record, it’s almost impossible for me to get a job,” one man named Matt, who lives with his wife in a tent in the city, told KGW news website. “It’s a cycle. It’s a downward spiral.”
He was hit with 11 felony charges for manufacturing, distribution and possession of marijuana and cocaine stretching back to the 1990s and most recently in 2017, according to the outlet.
Homelessness in Portland has increased in recent years, most notably during the pandemic. The mayor’s office projected earlier this year that there are about 6,000 people living on the streets in the Portland region. The figure is considered an undercount, but still marks a 50% increase from the estimated 4,000 people who were homeless in 2019.
“Like look at me,” Matt told KGW, referring to his ripped jeans and a T-shirt reading, “I’m A Problem.” “I don’t look hyper-employable. I smell like s— for maybe like half the month. It’s hard to get a shower. I got to ride a bike to wherever I get a job, which by the way, got stolen last night. You see a theme going on here in Portland.”
A homeless camp near the east side of the Hawthorne Bridge as smoke from wildfires fills the air in Portland, Oregon, on Sept. 16, 2020. (Rebecca Smeyne/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
Another woman told the outlet that she dreams of one day running a day care center, but said looking for a job is “almost pointless,” citing how she can’t regularly wash her clothes.
“You don’t have your clothes washed. You don’t have an alarm clock. Ninety percent of the time, if I have a phone, it’s dead,” Amanda Drennen said.
“I’m pretty much ready to go. I got my wagon with my food and stuff. I would like to get a job. I would like to see myself moving forward. I would really like to see myself out of a tent,” she added.
Outreach workers at the nonprofit Central City Concern, who meet with about 200 homeless people a week to help them get off the streets, said repeat felony charges for drug use, assault or property crime often keep homeless individuals from getting back on their feet.
“It can be hugely prohibitive. It can really shrink what their opportunities are,” said Drew Grabham, who heads the outreach team at Central City Concern.
The deputy director at Partnership for Safety and Justice, a nonprofit that advocates against incarceration in favor of other solutions to address crime, also advocated for giving people a “second chance.”
A large homeless camp at Laurelhurst Park, which is at the center of one of Portland’s most affluent neighborhoods. (iStock)
“If we want our communities to be safe and for people to live safe, stable lives they have to have a second chance,” said Shannon Wight.
“If we’re holding people accountable, do we need to saddle them with a lifelong felony conviction?” Wight asked.
Residents of the city have meanwhile repeatedly voiced concern over the homeless population. Some homeowners have been forced to sell their houses in recent months after homeless camps were established outside their doorsteps.
“It’s neighborhood by neighborhood. You can be driving through North Portland, and you’re in this lovely area where there’s no issues, and then you can make a turn around the corner and have homeless camps there. It’s kind of sad. I’ve been doing this for 10 years here in Portland, and it’s changed quite a bit,” real estate broker Lauren Iaquinta told KGW in August.
Portland, Oregon, skyline (David Papazian via Getty Images)
Businesses have also either closed down or sounded the alarm on crime and public safety in the city. The historic Benson Hotel in downtown Portland was even reportedly considering a lawsuit against the city earlier this year after the hotel lost a corporate client over safety concerns.
“The city is not living up to its duty to provide basic services (cleanliness, safety & security),” an executive from Coast Hospitality Management, the company that owns the Benson, wrote in an email to the president of the Oregon Restaurant and Lodging Association, according to Willamette Week in September. “Too many homeless and crazy people running around. Suffice to say, I’m furious!”
The city overall has been coping with a violent crime increase in recent years, most notably spiking in 2020, as protests and riots raged that summer following the killing of George Floyd. That year notched a 58% increase in homicides compared to the year prior, at 57 deaths, and 2021 recorded a 54% increase, at 88 homicides. The number of homicides in 2021 was a 238% increase from numbers recorded in 2018.