“Portland? Hasn’t that city gone to hell?”
“Isn’t it a lawless zone of anarchists?”
“Isn’t Portland overrun with homeless?”
“I heard the police are completely defunded in Portland.”
“Are you ok?”
These are all typical questions I get asked by people in Utah when I tell them I’m living in Portland, Oregon. After COVID took a toll on the main economic industry of Portland (tourism and food & beverage), the city has, indeed, sunk to new lows.
Although the protest in Portland for Black Lives Matter (BLM) was admirable, it was the longest lasting BLM protest in the nation that often led to opportunists hijacking the event to loot and vandalize. At the heart of the protest, downtown resembled a war zone with barbed wire and walled garrisons.
As a result, Portland’s image of a a friendly hipster town had fallen into an unruly city of crime and homelessness.
So, based on my local vignettes as someone who is living in Portland, I’d like to personally answer the question that the local news has made into a new weekly segment: is Portland over?
Homelessness is on the rise and is definitely more visible
Statistically, homelessness is up 30% in Portland compared to 2019, with an average of 3,100 homeless on the street on any given night.
When I tell newcomers to Portland that downtown used to sparkle and was one of the cleanest city cores I had ever visited, they look at me as if I were describing a long lost fairy tale.
Now it’s filled with homeless tents, the mentally unstable, and boarded up storefronts ruined from crime and desertion.
Just around the corner from where I live — often on routes where children walk to and from school — I have seen camps pop up with used needles peppering the sidewalk. The once peaceful park near my neighborhood (surrounded by wealthy houses) has become a prime camping spot for the homeless.
I must say, however, that things are now on the up-and-up. The downtown is now visitable (although not exactly safe or comforting) and the mayor just mandated that all tents on school routes are cleaned up.
Still, it’s sad that Portland has fallen so far in just two years.
Portland’s homicides increased a staggering 209% from 2019 to 2021, the highest homicide rate recorded since 1987. In fact, Portland is ranked as one of the top ten cities that broke homicide records in 2021. For me, the most horrifying story is about a woman driving around in broad daylight (not far from my house) to pick up bridal shower supplies when she got caught in gang cross-fire and was literally shot in the face.
Luckily, I still feel (somewhat?) safe in my neighborhood. Police sirens used to be a rare and seldom heard sound from our house, but now they are a daily (and sometimes hourly) occurence. And I just have to say, hearing multiple pops and explosions in the night from my open window (when it’s not Fourth of July) season is definitely very unsettling.
Luckily, the worst crime we’ve had happen to us is our car getting stripped for a part; luckily, no break-ins or other thefts so far. And God help me — please no homicide!
Graffiti is everywhere
Portland has always had a lot of graffiti; it is, after all, a city of misfits and wandering artists. However, post-COVID, the amount of graffiti has increased significantly. I wouldn’t even mind the graffiti if it was actually art, but most of the time it’s nonsensical lettering that looks like random spray paint. The most heart-breaking to me is when actual street art is ruined by random graffiti.
The alarming increase of graffiti has… well, made the city look ghetto. Really ghetto.
So… is there no hope for Portland?
Although I almost left Portland for Salt Lake City a few months ago, I ended up coming back to the city of Roses and staying due to husband’s job. It’s been downright heartbreaking seeing the city of Portland fall so far from grace, especially since there is so much about the city I love.
Now, however, my husband and I are wondering if his job is worth staying in a city that seems to be on the fringe.
Despite the bad, however, I am still able to see a city that is ever-so-slowly recovering. Shuttered restaurants are re-opening their doors. The government is doing more to address the homeless problem and cleaning up the streets. Downtown — once a deserted battle zone — is now populated with the straggle of brave tourists once again.
When I walk around my neighborhood, full of green trees and local restaurants just a stone throws away from my house, I think about what a great place Portland has been to me.
However, when I think of the future, there is a pang of uncertainty. Especially as I think about where I would like my soon-to-be-daughter to grow up.
Here’s to you Portland. I love you, but man, it’s been rough.