Ed Langlois/Catholic Sentinel
Men prepare to leave for the day at a camp near North Lombard Avenue in Portland. Police swept the area a few days later.
Ed Langlois/Catholic Sentinel
Men prepare to leave for the day at a camp near North Lombard Avenue in Portland. Police swept the area a few days later.
A lack of funding for police, mental health services and affordable housing has left Portland with its crisis of homelessness, says Valerie Chapman, longtime pastoral administrator of St. Francis Parish in inner Southeast Portland.

Chapman and other Catholic ministers who serve homeless people are frustrated that the needs of campers have conflicted with the needs of businesses, homeowners and recreating citizens, especially near the Springwater Corridor in outer Southeast Portland.  
“It’s crazy making,” says Chapman, who blames neither campers nor neighbors who want a better solution.

If the city had made more public investments a decade ago, the problem would not be so bad, Chapman says.

Chapman, whose parish hosts a dining hall that feeds hundreds of homeless people each day, wants the public to know how difficult it is for campers to have to keep moving.  

“Imagine camping without a car or truck,” she says.

Chapman was pleased when Mayor Charlie Hales last year ordered that campers be allowed to pitch tents on city property. The mayor said then that people have a right to sleep. But after bitter complaints on the Springwater Corridor, Hales reversed course.

Chapman says no one should blame residents for not wanting to put up with a crowd of hundreds of campers, many of whom are mentally ill. She also notes that efforts to revive the natural landscape along the corridor have been destroyed by heavy camping.  
“We haven’t figured this out,” she says.  

She does know that there is a shortage of what she calls “first step housing,” homes for people just entering the work world and unable to pay market rent. St. Francis and Catholic Charities are developing that kind of housing on land adjacent to the parish. For now, some clients at St. Francis wait a year for a housing voucher, only to find that no apartments are available.

“People are pretty irritated,” says Sue Unger, director of St. Francis Dining Hall. One homeless man who came in for dinner complained that he had been moved three times in 48 hours.

“It is a hard situation on all sides and all sides are suffering because of it,” Unger says. “We have to deal with this.”

City Council has approved using an empty warehouse in an industrial district to shelter homeless people. Business owners in the area have protested.  

The city’s response to homelessness has been “flailing and failing,” says Holy Cross Father John Patrick Riley of St. André Bessette Parish in Portland’s Old Town.

“The big unanswered question is why so many poor, homeless, addicted and mentally ill are here, institutionalized not in care facilities, but in helplessness and dependency,” Father Riley explains.

He says most Portland leaders don’t want to make the connection between the exaltation of drug use and addiction and between the “glorification of sophomoric sexual depravity and the number of used and abused people” hurt by sex trafficking, for example.

“As the popular culture continues to decline, we will see more badly damaged, degraded, even destroyed individuals on the street,” Father Riley says. “We reap what we sow.”