I’m going off topic today because life isn’t all about money, right? We live in Portland and long time readers would know that I love Portland. I moved to Portland in 1996 to work for the Megacorp. It was a rough transition at first because I went to college in sunny Santa Barbara, CA. The abrupt transition from perfect weather to 8 months of drizzle per year was depressing to say the least. I got over it and came to love Portland, though. Portland has hit its stride over the past 5-6 years and it has been a perennial in many travel magazine’s “best cities” lists. The tourism boom is great for the local economy and tourists spent nearly $5 billion last year.
Portland is a great place to live, but it has changed a lot over 20 years. When I first moved here, Portland felt like a quaint small city. There wasn’t a lot of violent news on TV. The traffic was not too bad. Life was lived at a relaxed pace. Now, Portland feels more like a big city. There are shootings, stabbings, and other violent crimes on the news every day. The streets are full of cars and traffic jams are getting worse. The pace of life is still more relaxed than CA, but I can feel it ramping up. Part of it is probably because I’m getting older and grumpier. My theory is life always seems better in your 20’s because you were young, idealistic, and healthy. Crime has actually declined considerably over the past 20 years according to statistics. Maybe I didn’t pay much attention to the news back then.
Anyway, I still love Portland, but I’m dreaming more and more about our RB40 villa. Oregon has been the number 1 moving destination for the past 3 years and it’s getting a little crowded around here. More people means more problems after all. Portland metro has grown by 600,000 people since I moved here and the forecast predicts 750,000 more people in the next 20 years. The current population is around 2,400,000 people and we are the 23rd largest metro in the US. That is pretty big. The problems in Portland are also becoming more noticeable. Problems are growing and the local government does not know how to deal with them. Lately, Portland is starting to disappear from the “best cities” list. Tourists are noticing the visible problems and the shine is wearing off. We don’t want to move while RB40Jr is in school so we will be here for many years. However, if the problems keep getting worse, we may have to move up our timeline.
Portland has a huge homeless population. This is one of the first things tourists notice about Portland. Visitors arrive at the airport, take the light rail to downtown, and they inevitably get asked for money. Even our governor was ‘stunned’ by the number of campers in Portland when she came to town. Oregon’s homeless population rose by nearly nine percent last year. That’s a much bigger percentage increase than Washington and California.
The problem is so bad that the mayor recently declared an emergency and instituted the “safe sleep” policy. This allows the homeless to camp in groups of up to six, from 9 pm to 7 am. Predictably, camps sprang up like dandelions given free rein. There are camps on the sidewalks, under the bridges, bicycle corridor, next to the freeway entry ramps, and basically any flat space with some overhead shelter. We lived downtown for years and the homeless problem has never been more visible. The camps are strewn with garbage, crimes are increasing, drug use is rampant, and they become a semi-permanent encampment. Nobody wants to pack up at 7 am and leave. The cops are not enforcing the rule because they don’t want to get into a violent altercation. The local businesses are suing the city over the policy and it’s a huge debacle. This policy seems like an experiment gone wrong. The incoming mayor said he won’t support this policy so at least it is short term.
Here is a picture I took while I was driving around on Thursday. Sorry, the focus was off, but you get the idea.
Anecdotally, the numbers of homeless camps seem to be decreasing in the downtown area. Over the last few weeks, I’ve seen camps disappear and chain link fences erected under some bridges. Perhaps the cops have started making people pack up in anticipation of summer. The nicer weather usually means an explosion of homeless “travelers” that comes to Portland to take advantage of the social services. Maybe they are trying to head that off.
The homeless people have never bothered me much. The panhandlers are very good at picking out local residents. They rarely bother the locals because we rarely give cash. We are desensitized and it’s better to donate to shelters, food banks, and local non profits. Many homeless people have drug problems and cash won’t help them. Personally, I don’t mind the panhandling (which I simply say no to), but many tourists are targeted by aggressive panhandlers. Who wants to pay $300 per night and see a bunch of homeless people? It doesn’t jive with their image of Portlandia.
The homeless problem seems to be getting worse over the last few years because the cost of living here is increasing rapidly. Mobile home parks are getting sold to developers. Tenants are getting evicted for no reason so the landlords can remodel and raise the rent. New glitzy apartments are being built all across the city, but there are very few affordable units. The increased cost of living pushed many people over the edge. People with fixed income have nowhere to go when their trailer park or apartment complex closes down. They can’t pay $20,000 to move their manufactured home to a new site. It’s a tough environment to be on the edge.
Okay, I’ve gone on long enough about this problem. The local government doesn’t know how to fix it and I don’t either. They are trying to build more shelters, but that will take time and money. Seems to me, the problem will keep getting worse as the cost of living continues to increase. We’ll probably allow more encampments in out of the way locations like the Dignity Village near the airport.
In 2013, Oregon’s on time graduation rate (4 years) was the lowest of any state in the country at 69%. We have improved to 74% since then, but a big part of the improvement is due to the revised definition of “graduates.” Apparently, some students stay in high school an extra year even after they completed 4 years of education. The schools count the students as enrolled and continue to receive funding from the state. The money is used to pay for a year of community college, books, and counseling. It is a win-win because the schools receive more resources and the students get a free year of education. Well, maybe it’s not a win-win for the tax payers… Students in this category are now considered on time graduates. This sounds like a good program to me.
Our high school is in a good area and the graduation rate is way better at 93%. I’m still baffled as to why the overall graduation rate in Oregon is so low. High school is not that difficult and everyone should be able to graduate on time. I understand some students have problems at home, but 1 out of 4 kids not graduating on time seems ridiculous to me. If RB40Jr starts down that path, we’re outta here.
Portland has been a popular city for many years now and we are starting burst at the seams. In Oregon, we don’t like urban sprawl and we minimize it with the “urban growth boundary.” The area inside the UGB is targeted for higher density urban development and the area outside is reserved for agriculture and nature. The UGB made Portland a dense compact metro and gave us a unique feel. One big reason why I love living downtown is that we can get to any part of the city in less than 30 minutes from our home, assuming light traffic. Drive out a little more and you’ll be surrounded by trees and greenery. I never liked Southern California because you can drive for hours and still be surrounded by urban sprawl. There are just so many people living in California.
The traffic jam is getting worse here. Portlanders do not like freeways and we haven’t built a new freeway since 1983. The local government invested heavily in public transportation instead. I love our public transportation system, but it doesn’t work for everyone. Most people still drive and our freeways can’t accommodate the increased traffic. Luckily, I don’t have to go to work anymore and I avoid the freeways during rush hour like the plague.
Portland is starting to feel more crowded lately. We are getting bigger and bigger every year. There are apartment construction projects in every neighborhood. Our schools are getting slammed. The school board is in the process of redistricting the school boundary to relieve the most overcrowded schools. Portland doesn’t feel like a small city anymore. It is a big city with big cities’ problems. Portland was just the perfect size for me in the 90’s, but now it’s starting to get too big. Hopefully, the problems don’t worsen much over the next decade. We still like Portland and aren’t ready to move quite yet.
Whew, I went on a bit too long about the homeless problem, didn’t I? How are things in your neighborhood? Do you have similar problems in your area?
Check out this beautiful promotional video from Travel Portland.
Image by Alejandro Rdguez