Our City. Our Future. Our Choice.

October 26, 2020

An Open Letter to Mayor Wheeler on Police, Houselessness, and Housing

Dear Mayor Wheeler,

I hope this letter finds you and your family well.

I’m writing to you today in response to this weekend’s Oregonian articles detailing your Portland Police Bureau (PPB)’s record of criminalizing poverty. You must immediately halt the waste PPB has inflicted on our city by repeatedly arresting houseless people for victimless crimes that people in their circumstances can’t avoid. I write an open letter because the public deserves to know where leadership on these issues originates and to offer your colleagues a chance to join me in pressuring you to do what is right for our city. This letter presents three concrete steps you can take to address the outrageous over policing of houseless people and the corresponding massive waste.

Step 1) Join Commissioners Hardesty and Eudaly in redirecting further wasteful spending from PPB toward investments, through a public health lens, in the community. The Commissioners last week proposed a sensible, community-led reallocation. Your refusal to listen to Black leaders, and to women, on Rethinking Public Safety threatens to escalate the unrest in our city. The corrections the Commissioners propose to PPB’s massive budget would return it to the 2015 budget level. These resources should be reinvested into housing and services for the houseless. Homelessness has grown much worse during your administration as you’ve failed to innovate solutions, relying instead on demonstrably failed tactics. I first proposed Rethinking Public Safety in November 2019, and our community has vocally demanded reallocation of wasteful PPB spending for years.

Step 2) It is imperative that you authorize the City to begin purchasing and remediating hotels into innovative shelter and long-term affordable housing, netting hundreds of affordable units quickly. The price of such properties is currently distressed by the pandemic; the costs of converting these existing units is a fraction of constructing new housing units. As the Oregonian made clear, house keys help keep our neighbors from ending up in handcuffs. Please join with council in supporting the ongoing work of our partners in Project Turnkey by redirecting money from wasteful PPB spending toward this housing as recommended in my First 100 Days Plan, released October 21st.

Step 3) Commit to immediately partner with District Attorney Mike Schmidt to reduce the number of arrests, bookings, and prosecutions for the crimes identified in the Oregonian article as most common (and most unavoidable) to houseless people. Portland has been stretched to the brink by PPB seeing many problems as an opportunity to arrest and incarcerate. Our community won some police reforms this summer, but the work has only begun. We must decriminalize poverty and victimless crimes to house our neighbors, investigate violent crimes PPB now fails to solve, and provide mental health and addiction services. Such proposals are included throughout my Plan for Progress.

The solutions detailed here are actionable and the need for them urgent. As back in March when I suggested the City push for a community coronavirus response weeks prior to implementation, Portland needs timely leadership that’s rarely forthcoming from your office. You recently mocked my campaign for proposing a Guaranteed Basic Income pilot program for low income Black mothers, only to announce a new partnership days later to provide gift cards to low income people. You slander me as “antifa,” and deny there are people identifying as fascists in Portland the same week a neo-Nazi plastered my Foster-area neighborhood with recruitment stickers and awful slurs against Jewish people. Portland is not well served by your refusal to see the real problems in our midst, nor in your rejection of progressive solutions. You have appropriated my policies many times. I implore you to listen to me when I give you a blueprint to addressing issues at the intersection of policing, housing, and houselessness.

Please take the steps the community expects of a leader who cares about police accountability, housing our neighbors, and preventing the over-policing of vulnerable people.

Onward in community,
Sarah Iannarone