Homelessness is criminalized to such a degree in Portland, Oregon that a majority of all arrests police made in the city last year were of homeless people.
An analysis by The Oregonian also found that, in 2017, the Portland Police Bureau made more arrests of homeless people than the entire homeless population of Multnomah County, which houses Portland. According to a federal survey, there were 4,177 people living either on the streets, in homeless shelters, or in transitional housing in the county. However, in 2017, local police made 4,437 arrests of homeless people.
Roughly 84 percent of those arrests were for nonviolent crimes, like drug possession, failure to appear in court, or violating terms of parole or probation. 440 of the arrests made last year were of people who have been arrested more than 20 times since 1996, accounting for more than 20,000 arrests over the last 22 years. 80 percent of homeless arrestees in 2017 had been previously arrested at least once in the past 20 years, according to The Oregonian.
Portland remains one of the most expensive cities to live in. The Willamette Week reported earlier this month that the city was the 15th most expensive rental market in the entire United States, with median rent for a one-bedroom apartment at approximately $1,360/month. Real estate site Zillow found that the median home value in Portland is $429,400, or roughly $294 per square foot. Just six years ago, in June of 2012, the median home price in the area was just $238,000.
The numerous arrests of homeless people only adds to arrestees’ difficulty in finding affordable housing, as many landlords and property owners will decline someone with an arrest record after conducting a criminal background check on an applicant. Even though Mayor Ted Wheeler and Police Chief Danielle Outlaw say that homelessness is not a crime, the disproportionate number of arrests suggests otherwise.
In their defense, the Portland Police Bureau has their hands full, as there has been a spike in calls to local law enforcement’s non-emergency line in addition to 911 from business owners and neighborhood leaders asking for police to address street-level crime and public drug use.
Tonight, Mayor Wheeler is conducting a forum on how the police can better improve interactions with the homeless community.
Tom Cahill is a contributor for Grit Post who covers political and economic news. He lives in Bend, Oregon. Send him an email at tom DOT v DOT cahill AT gmail DOT com.