Update: Not every stabbing gets reliably reported when it happens. On March 1, 2019, we found out about a stabbing that had occurred back on Oct. 20. While we updated the main page tally to 61 for the year, we will not update the stats on this page.
Before we get to the year in review, some thoughts on the state of Portland entering 2019. If you aren't interested, jump to the bottom to get to the 2018 Stabtown Analysis.
When we launched Stabtown.com a year ago, it was a lark. “Ha ha,” we laughed. “Let’s give all those people referring to Portland as ‘Stabtown’ and saying someone needs to ‘reset the clock’ what they want.”
We don’t like to half-ass things, though. If we were going to do Stabtown, we wanted it to stand up to scrutiny. So we spent some time first talking about what our standards for resetting the clock should be. Basically, it needed to be a confirmed stabbing that drew blood. We require a police press release, news coverage or other reliable source before we count it.
That’s a high threshold, and we no doubt missed many stabbings that hurt real people in 2018.
Resetting the Portland’s Stabtown Clock for 60 stabbings (52 stabbing incidents) in 2018, has taken a toll on our psyches. It’s not so funny anymore when you realize just how bad things are out there. Sure, we still tweet asinine things because if you can’t be an idiot on Twitter, where can you be? Besides, with this many stabbings, Portland needs a chuckle.
But we have real problems, Portland, and the stabbings are just a symptom. There’s youth violence and racism behind some stabbings, but the biggest driver is rampant homelessness.
Thousands of people sleep on the streets every night. Many of them have mental health or addiction problems. Others are, to be blunt, sociopaths who don’t care at all about other people or the law. Yet local government is incapable or unwilling to get serious about addressing the problem. Suffering is inevitable.
We need to help homeless people into shelters and ultimately into homes. We need to connect people to services that will help with mental health, substance abuse and job training. We need to build more affordable housing.
The city, region and state are working on all of that, but it’s a slow go. Maybe 1,000 affordable housing units will be built in 2019. There are more than 5,000 homeless people, and more coming every day. If we’re going to build and social service our way out of the problem, it will take years, if it’s even possible.
Success with just compassion requires that service-resistant, hard-core homeless – the ones often called ‘criddlers’ online – can be convinced to change their ways. Even harder to change might be the homeless and their enablers who view occupying public land as a political statement, an outgrowth of OccupyPDX.
Without a clear strategy, the city and county continue to spend money inefficiently. Semi-permanent homeless camps like Hazelnut Grove and the Kenton Women’s Village cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars just to help a couple of dozen people. Money is squandered on poorly conceived shelters where the roof caves in. And money is funneled to politically connected homeless advocacy organizations driven more by agenda than by kindness.
The situation is untenable, especially in the short- and mid-term. Portland must wield a stick to go with the carrots it’s handing out. It needs to step up and say, “No more!” to the campsites strewn with garbage, drug use and aggressive panhandling. If the city took a hard line against camping on public property, it might just find that fewer homeless people want to be here.
Portlanders are generally a compassionate lot, but we are passionate about more than helping homeless people. We're also passionate about quality of life. When quality of life suffers so profoundly that it’s embarrassing to invite friends and family to visit, that’s something government needs to address.
A federal court has ruled that a city must provide a place for people to sleep if not on the streets. Fine, come up with one. Choose a large, vacant space and send people there. Wapato Prison, tracts around Portland International Raceway, the back nine of Eastmoreland Golf Course, the abandoned parts of Colwood Golf Course, the open space at Marquam Gulch.
Coordinate service providers on that site. Figure out how to make it work; don’t cry about why it can’t work. There are options if we’re creative and treat the housing “emergency” like an actual emergency.
The court didn’t rule that cities have to allow campsites, only that it can’t forbid people from sleeping on the streets if they have nowhere else to go. Tell campers no more tents, no more open fires, no more drugs. See how popular Portland remains among the homeless.
Portland can be so much better than it has been in recent years. We are a community that is capable of supporting all residents. We also expect all people to be responsible members of the community. Stabbings aren’t normal. Crime isn’t normal. Smashing car windows isn’t normal. Homelessness isn’t normal.
At least they shouldn’t be normal. Not here in Portland. Not anywhere.
We’ll continue to reset the clock at Stabtown.com until our leaders get serious or until it becomes too depressing even for cynics like us.