Portland’s homeless population is livin’ on easy street.
A homeless woman who identified herself as Wendy last week told homeless activist Kevin Dahlgren that living on the streets is a breeze thanks to Oregon’s lax drug policies and lack of police enforcement.
“It’s a piece of cake, really. I mean, that’s why you probably got so many out here because they feed you three meals a day,” Wendy told Dahlgren in a street interview. “They’re loving us to death. You don’t have to do shit but stay in your tent or party or if you smoke of a lot of dope you can do that.”
Dahlgren, who runs the nonprofit We Heart Seattle, wants to end homelessness by “empowering not enabling” others, thanked Wendy for her honesty before adding that Portland’s approach doesn’t seem to be “really helping anybody.”
“It’s not,” Wendy agreed. “That’s why you see all the tents.”
In September, the state’s Health Authority found that its new law decriminalizing small amounts of all street drugs had “failed.” Under the Oregon law, which went into effect last February, those found with personal-use amounts of drugs, such as including heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, LSD, oxycodone and ecstasy, would be slapped with fines instead of criminal charges.
In the first six months of the law, fatal overdoses skyrocketed, with unintentional opioid overdose deaths jumping from 472 to 739 in 2021. Less than 1% of drug users who accessed drug treatment services opted for rehabilitation programs, data shows.
Instead, homeless drug users have been left to party all night and sleep all day, Wendy said.
There are over 6,600 homeless people in Portland across more than 700 encampments. Although the city’s Mayor Ted Wheeler announced in October plans to ban the camps, the tent cities have largely remained undisturbed by city officials, including police.
“Here you don’t have any police. There’s no police around,” Wendy said. “You get hurt, you’re screwed because they’re not helping anybody. You don’t see them anywhere.”
Wendy claimed that she “used to be like everybody else” before falling on hard times. She used to run her own hair salon in Washington, owned a house and drove a Lexus, but told Dahlgren she lost everything after losing her husband.
Wendy said she wants to return to cutting hair and get another job, but can’t until she gets a new pair of dentures — her last pair was stolen right from her own tent, she said.
“They do that here,” she said.
Dahlgren revealed Monday that he had set up a fundraiser for Wendy to get her a new pair of dentures and that the video series had helped Wendy’s brother finally find where his homeless sister had been living.