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Our Opinion: Stop-gap solutions don't help homeless

In trying to solve one large problem — namely, the Right 2 Dream Too homeless camp that’s anchored itself at the Chinatown gate — Portland city officials are on the verge of creating a new and potentially larger problem to take its place.

City leaders cannot be blamed for trying to address an intolerable situation, but their actions to date demonstrate they lack a higher-level and longer-term strategy for dealing with the homeless population in Portland.

The city has been playing catch-up every step of the way as it first tried to prevent and now attempts to relocate the Right 2 Dream Too encampment. The latest plan is to move the campground to a city-owned parking lot beneath the Broadway Bridge ramp.

Predictably, the neighbors of that site are less than enthused about having a homeless camp nearby. The Pearl District Neighborhood Association already is pledging to take the city to court if it proceeds with the camp’s relocation.

Pearl District representatives argue, quite logically, that if Right 2 Dream Too is illegal in its present location, it also will be illegal a few blocks to the north. City Commissioner Amanda Fritz, who brokered the deal to move Right 2 Dream Too, is now countering that the camp would have been legal on its current, private lot in Old Town/Chinatown if only the owner of the site had gone through the land-use process.

Our own reporting, however, tells a different story. Officials from the Bureau Of Development Services did everything they could 18 months ago to deter Right 2 Dream Too. We happen to agree with them on that score, but Fritz cannot rewrite history as a way of justifying the move to the Broadway Bridge. After all, the city has levied more than $20,000 in fines against the owners of the Right 2 Dream Too site, even as it now tries to buy the land to facilitate the move.

Let’s be clear on two points: First, Right 2 Dream Too is a hindrance to business and development in downtown Portland and it ought to be relocated. Second, a move to the Broadway Bridge site, while it may clear the way for redevelopment of the Grove Hotel in Old Town, solves nothing. It simply shifts the problem to a new location.

City officials are grasping for a solution, but they also must think about the long-term consequences of shortsighted actions. Portland needs a grander vision for how to deal with the homeless population — providing shelter and services for those who accept them, and moving away from makeshift campgrounds that detract from their surrounding neighborhoods.

One possibility that’s been discussed is to repurpose the never-used Wapato Jail in North Portland as a shelter and service hub for the homeless. The $58 million facility has plenty of rooms, beds, bathrooms and an industrial-size kitchen. It sits on a large parcel of land and has capacity for social-service agencies to house offices or staff there. Plus, Multnomah County already spends money to keep the jail mothballed.

Wapato is somewhat distant from downtown service providers, but Portland is supposed to be known for its innovative transportation. Surely, the community can provide a few shuttle buses to travel back and forth to the site.

Whether a long-term strategy involves Wapato or not, it’s obvious that Portland’s 10-year plan to end homelessness — a plan that is now nearly 10 years old — did not receive the resources necessary to achieve its goal. This city must not look for quick and seemingly easy remedies to problems such as Right 2 Dream Too. Instead, it should focus attention on a larger vision for helping the homeless — a vision that doesn’t include creating a burden for individual neighborhoods.