PORTLAND, Ore. – On a sidewalk littered with discarded tarps, bicycles and food containers, a tent sat farther away from the others. It was clean, with the rain fly removed, showcasing the vacant interior.
“This is an empty tent put up by activists to encourage people to live in tents,” Kevin Dahlgren said.
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Dahlgren’s day job is to reduce homelessness in the town of Gresham, but he spends most of his free time talking to those living on the streets of Portland. He often posts videos of himself conversations on Twitterhoping to shed some light on the West Coast’s “dysfunctional system” to address homelessness.
In her 27 years in social services, Dahlgren said she has seen a shift from permanent solutions to band-aid approaches.
“When you’re not actually helping permanent solutions, the old homeless stay there and the new ones come in and everything grows,” he said.
Oregon has one of the highest homelessness rates in the country. An estimated 17,959 people were homeless in the state at last year’s national count, including 11,000 who were homeless, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The state — and its largest city — have struggled to turn the tide.
“I haven’t seen any really permanent solutions offered to anyone,” said Anthony, who told Fox News he became homeless earlier this year. “The most I’ve seen is just, you know, ‘Here, let me give you a very thin blanket. Let me give you a tent.'”
Anthony told Dahlgren he was sober, so Dahlgren recommended that he visit transitional housing in North Portland.
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About 80% of homeless people have a history of addiction, Dahlgren said. Following Oregon’s first drug decriminalization effort, outdoor drug use became the norm and bystanders became “desensitized”, according to Anthony.
“They go do drugs in front of the cops and the cops don’t do anything,” he added. “Which, I mean, it’s good that the cops don’t ruin their lives even more.”
Widespread fentanyl is increasing overdose deaths and desperation among Portland’s homeless population, Dahlgren said, contributing to rampant crime against city property.
“I don’t steal from stores. I try to keep everything legal as best I can,” said Josh, 33, as he huddled in a doorway to warm himself by a cold February day, a lighter clutched in his hand. and a piece of blackened aluminum foil at his feet. “Personally, I just do begging.”
Portland nonprofits distribute clean needles, hoses and anti-overdose naloxone – services they call harm reduction.
“The number of lives I’ve saved with the Narcan is incredible,” said Matthew, who has been homeless since 2013. “I’ve saved about 20 people.”
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But Dahlgren called Portland’s current approach to addiction and homelessness “all evil and no reduction.”
“They won’t even offer the sobriety solution or the recovery solution,” Dahlgren said. “You’re empowering someone who already lacks critical thinking and rational thinking to keep using, and that’s insane to me. And it feels really inhuman at times.”
None of the homeless people Fox News spoke to were encouraged to enter drug treatment or find a way off the streets. Matthew said he was never even approached by an outreach worker.
“I am the first outreach worker to speak to him in nine years in Portland, Oregon,” Dahlgren said. “I hear that every day. So where are they?
With hundreds of unsanctioned camps spread over 146 square miles, it’s “impossible to hire enough outreach workers to meaningfully connect people to services, including shelters,” Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler said. , in a recent video.
That’s part of the reason Wheeler pushed for the creation of six major city-sanctioned homeless camps, despite fierce opposition from some residents who likened them to “concentration camps.”
“There’s nothing human about the situation on the streets of Portland,” Wheeler said. “Our collective goal should be to eliminate unauthorized and unprotected camping in Portland.”
Wheeler expects the first such camp to open by the summer and can accommodate up to 150 people, KOIN 6 reported.
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Dahlgren supports the city’s plan for designated campsites, calling it a “good first step.”
“A lot of homeless people I’ve met right now aren’t interested in any type of housing,” he said. “They want to be on the outside for a variety of reasons. It could be trauma, it could be addiction, it could be where their family is and the transition off the streets can be very difficult.”
Dahlgren said he sees “so much potential in everyone on the street” and hopes to continue to help individuals build a future for themselves.
“That should be the number one goal of homeless outreach,” Dahlgren said. “How can we empower them? How can we make them thrive? »