Thousands in Portland Now Jobless and Homeless; City’s “Plan to End Homelessness” Lacks Work Programs

July 24, 2009

Emergency Unfolding on the Ground  —

Man sleeping on sidewalk

Oregon now ranks first in the U.S. in per capita homelessness.

Economic Development With Lots of Green Jobs Badly Needed Locally.

Statewide there were over 17,000 homeless people on a given night in January 2009 — up 37% from the 2008 statewide count.

Oregon now ranks FIRST in the U.S. for per capita homelessness. A higher percentage of us locally are without shelter than in any other U.S. state. Maybe its the lovely winter. Whatever it is, there is unprecedented suffering among us these days.

See, ;


Of the 17,000 identified as without shelter in January, it is estimated that at least half this number is in the Portland metro area.  Many of these un-sheltered people are newly homeless families with children. Many have good work histories up until recently – the start of this modern Depression. The trend is clearly for fewer jobs available each month, while the un-sheltered population grows. Twice this number of people are in if-y temporary housing and without shelter periodically.

These cold numbers amount to unprecedented misery among us. The sleeplessness, fear and uncertainty experienced by the homeless can lead to debilitating despair or desperation, which lead to higher (and costlier) rates of crime, domestic abuse, and health problems of every kind.

Thousands now homeless among us currently have no right to legally sleep anywhere in the City, while our system of official shelters and temporary housing can at best accommodate only a fraction of these sleepless people. Note, Dignity Village is currently the only legal encampment allowed by our City leaders, and can accommodate only about 60 people.  The other 5000 + must all literally hide in order to sleep – in order to be kept from being harassed (or assaulted), and told to, “Move on!” This is a dangerous situation – especially for the growing number of women sleeping outdoors.

This is a growing emergency.


Is it not inhumane to think otherwise?

What can we do

to help this situation,

with a focus

on the long term?



Lots of green JOBS and SHELTER spaces are badly needed, soon!

Our rainy season begins in about 60 Days…

We must insist that our City leaders wake up about the true numbers — not allowing them to be in denial about the real SCOPE of this suffering, nor the gathering momentum of this trend!

The newly homeless is a diverse population. Most of them are ready and willing to work – if there were adequate economic development to create jobs.

Portland’s “Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness” is focused primarily on helping the chronically homeless.  So what about those who are newly homeless – those who want to get back to work, but can’t find a job? The federal stimulus money which has been sent to our state and local governments does NOT seem to be creating many jobs for those in need so far.  The Portland Tribune has recently pointed this out at

Imagining Win-Win, Cooperative Economic Development

Portland could, in cooperation with local counties and our State Legislature, consider creating ‘green economic development zones,’ wherein formerly un-sheltered local citizens could live, work, train, and eventually ‘graduate’ with new green economy-focused skills.


In cooperation with highly accredited local colleges or Universities,  willing workers could be given opportunities to become certified in a wide range of useful green skills. There would need to be various kinds of green work communities.

Sustainable farming communities could be developed to affordably house and employ (at least part time) thousands of local citizens who currently have no means of self-support.  Such communities could also have workshops, where resident workers could manufacture items to be sold by their community, or to be used directly in the improvement of their community (or other sustainable communities).

Among us URBAN-dwellers, this ‘farm-like’ approach may seem a bit foreign or old fashioned. The fact remains that we are still very much agricultural creatures. We would do well to re-learn this, and re-teach it.

The fact is — re-creating something like the old Multnomah County Home would be a very efficient and compassionate approach to the current crisis of growing homelessness. (aka: one of our local ‘poor farms’ of the Great Depression era)

Multnomah County Home, Troutdale, circa 1935

Multnomah County Home, the main residence hall for our old 'poor farm' (now McMenamins Edgefield) efficiently housed up to 350 people.

We would need to create several housing/green-work programs locally in order to accommodate even half of the 17,000 (+) who are now homeless statewide.

The duty of providing opportunities for self-support for our otherwise un-sheltered neighbors must fall to our local governments,  because charities are having a hard time keeping up with the fast growing numbers. Among the many charities locally which are doing the best they can to give food and/or shelter, few of them have the resources to be creating many jobs.

Green jobs created by the County/ Cities could be as cheap as strawbales, some hardware, gardening tools/ supplies,  some goats or chickens — provided along with occasional medical help and some agricultural training on dedicated public lands (suitable for agriculture) now held idle by our local governments and the state. This providence by our local governments would be in addition to, of course, and not in lieu of the good work ongoing of our local charities and churches.

wise cost-benefit must include externalities

wise cost-benefit analysis must include externalities

The human costs of inaction in this economy are already unacceptably high. The suffering of the un-sheltered will inevitably affect each of us.

Whatever the start-up costs for programs aimed at greater self-reliance for those without shelter, the cost can be justified when weighed against the (terribly undermentioned) ‘external costs’ of unchecked rising crime, and public health emergencies of every kind!

Besides just farming . . .

Besides sustainable agriculture, modern day ‘green work/training communities’ could also take on such economic development endeavors as solar panel assembly, woodworking, fisheries management, wetlands restoration, removal of invasive species or trail maintenance in our local parks, the operation of vending carts, operating a cafe, etc. etc.

For resident-workers who want to commit to educational programs, a well-governed community should offer educational certification in various work-skill sets. They would be able to train and get certified in the work they learn to do.

Multnomah County Home

Residents at the old Mult.County poor farm worked part time hours (perhaps 15/week) for room and board.

There should be emphases  on ‘old-fashioned’ methods of  self-reliance, as well as on the emerging needs of our modern green economy.  A modern day ‘poor farm’ would more closely resemble a vocational or community college with on-site transitional housing, and with basic medical provided.  Other services could be offered as needed, depending on the population.

Re-establishing a localized “safety net” for our fast growing un-sheltered multitude means we should have all options under consideration.

Where are our City and county leaders in this? We need something like the old ‘poor farms’ again, and soon.  We should look at all options — that’s all we’re saying here.

There are plenty of idle public lands which might be used to help employ and house the poor.

New jobs are few, and traditional housing is becoming less and less affordable for thousands more people every month lately.  Currently, the City of Portland and the four counties of the metro area are trying to determine urban growth boundaries and rural preserves — as part of their longer term ‘comprehensive planning’ for our Metro area.


and see,


satellite photo of n.w. Oregon, and s.w. Wash. (click to enlarge)

This would be a very good time to be asking the City/ Metro planners to consider setting aside some public lands for the purpose of facilitating formation of green-work/training-focused communities for the  homeless.

Properly planned, we could develop low-cost encampments on public lands which are largely self-supporting — provide immediate opportunities for green work, green training, nutritious food, and housing for people too poor to afford these currently.


Thinking ‘outside the box’ of traditionally expensive  H.U.D./Portland Housing Bureau expensive definitions of “housing,” we can and should be facilitating alternative housing options — including straw bale, earth bag, cord and cob construction. Using these less traditional methods, we can stay within our limited public budgets, while providing housing for far more people who would otherwise languish on impossibly long ‘housing waiting lists.’ Properly built, such alternatives are strong and clean, and best of all, affordable. Note: there is growing support for such alternatives locally.

See e.g.,

There are also thousands of students at Portland State University, Oregon State University, and colleges around the State who are keenly focused on systemic change. These and other forces of change are looking at the status quo and the forces of resistance in Portland, and wondering how to come together more effectively.

community garden 2

There are also thousands locally who would be willing to volunteer to help teach the homeless how to garden, or how to improve their diets, or how to build and maintain their own high quality shelters, or how to otherwise help themselves. This gigantic volunteer pool is simply awaiting BOLD leadership from our elected leaders.

Please write, call or visit our local elected officials to encourage them to think more about  efficiently COMBINING programs — such as gardening projects which could offer green work and training along with housing, and good nutrition.

See this Blog’s ‘Recent Letters’ Page for contact information for our local leaders. Tell them, ‘Opportunities for self reliance make for real dignity!’


promoting the dignity of self-support

Please contact your elected leaders!

Peace and thanks for reading,

– The G.R.O.W.S. Committee

(Green Residential Oregon Work Sites)


Addresses and Phone Numbers for our City and County Leaders:

Our Portland City Council:

Mayor Sam Adams
(has authority to allow additional tent cities)
1221 SW 4th Ave, Room 340
Portland, OR 97204

Commissioner Nick Fish
(in charge of Housing, and the “Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness”)
1221 SW 4th Ave, Room 240
Portland, OR 97204
(503) 823-3589

Commissioner Amanda Fritz
(helps administer CLEAN/SAFE Program)
1221 SW 4th Ave, Room 220
Portland, OR 97204

Commissioner Randy Leonard
(in charge of Public Safety)
Position Number 4
1221 SW 4th Ave, Room 210, 97204

Commissioner Dan Saltzman
(in charge of Police, Public Relations)
1221 SW 4th Ave, Room 230
Portland, OR 97204
(503) 823-4151

The Multnomah County Commissioners:


The Washington County Commissioners:

The Clackamas County Commissioners:

Our Metro Council:



One Response to “Thousands in Portland Now Jobless and Homeless; City’s “Plan to End Homelessness” Lacks Work Programs”

  1. Linda said

    The number of homeless families in Portland continues to increase. I am amazed that so many people are without jobs. We must find new and innovative ways to address this problem. The old ways are a good idea too! Establishing sustainable farms where people can have shelter, work part time hours, plus get useful job training would be an efficient, low-cost way of addressing this need.

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