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Dispatch from Portland 2023: "What's Happening Here?"
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Dispatch from Portland 2023: "What's Happening Here?"

Two photographers covering Portland, from the summer of rage 2020 to the current explosion of homelessness and drug addiction, are not optimistic about the city's recovery. But are there green shoots?
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The streets of Portland may be calmer than during the 108 straight nights of violence in 2020, but are things better? Or are they just as bad but in different ways?

Photographers Chelly (@hunnybadgermom on Twitter) and Michelle (@cocainemichelle) cover the city, including the current rise in homelessness and drug addiction, the uptick in crime, and the exponential shredding of the social fabric. They chronicle the deterioration of downtown, where the vacancy rate is set to hit 40%, and speak with those filling the void. Lifelong Oregonians, they see citizens variously unwilling to see these issues as problems, and fleeing the City of Roses because of them.

How did Portland get to where it is? Have decisions based on presumed compassion - to not prosecute property and some violent crimes; to provide support if not treatment to drug users — led to bad outcomes? And are better days two years away, or two decades?

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Episode notes:

Video I took while driving Thomas Chatterton-Williams, February 2022

One Michelle took, January 2023

Rebranded Foster-Powell, Felony Flats was a great neighborhood name

From Measure 110, which decriminalized personal-use amounts of drugs:

“On November 3, 2020, Oregon voters passed Measure 110, approving two shifts in how the state deals with the use of illegal drugs. First, the measure reduces penalties for drug possession, making Oregon the first state to decriminalize the personal possession of illegal drugs. Secondly, the anticipated savings achieved from the current cost of enforcing criminal drug possession penalties will be combined with marijuana sales revenue to fund a new drug addiction treatment and recovery grant program.”

Emphasis mine. Oregon ranks second-highest in rate of substance abuse and 50th in access to treatment. Since the passage of 110, “funding has been slow getting out of the gate and instances of drug abuse and overdose deaths have increased,” and agencies are currently fighting over who gets to siphon off funds earmarked for drug treatment.

A Murder in Portland,” by Nancy Rommelmann (Washington Examiner Magazine)

Destruction and Hope in Portland,” which I wrote for Persuasion, featured North Portland resident Kurt Martig who, like Michelle, was shocked at how many people on NextDoor are willing to reimagine the destruction of other people’s property as no big deal. (NB: Martig and his family moved out of Portland last year.)

“I go on Nextdoor.com and I’m seeing things like, ‘People have insurance, things are less important than lives,’” Martig said. “I’m like, guys, you’re hurting innocent bystanders, the business owners are getting hurt, the employees are going to get hurt, the customers, it’s all the way down.”

Others disagreed. Someone at the dog park told Martig he should factor in “the decades and centuries of oppression and understand why people are doing what they’re doing.” A friend told him that the cops were always worse.

“It kind of breaks down to, you can either be one way or the other,” Martig said. “Which is a false choice.”

Nike Offers to Pay Police to Guard Portland Store From Shoplifters,” by Mike Impelli (Newsweek)

Portland, Ore., Once Among Safest U.S. Cities, Struggles to Cut Homicide Rate,” by Zusha Elinson (Wall Street Journal)

We looked at Portland's crime rates. Comparatively, they're not so bad,” by Andy Giegerich (Portland Business Journal)

About that bucket of diarrhea sloshed into a police station…

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