Dear Friends and Neighbors,When communities face hardships, they can either band together or break apart; they can search for solutions or start pointing fingers.
East Portland is facing a number of simultaneous crises - gun violence, traffic fatalities, vandalism, and hate crimes, on top of the COVID pandemic and economic slowdown.
This community - my community - suffers from a myriad of ills - a lack of investment, car-centered infrastructure, a shortage of high wage job opportunities, and is home to a disproportionate number of our lower income households.
COVID has exacerbated all of these challenges, but I want you to know that I’m working to pull people together, work collaboratively, and address these issues head on.
On gun violence, east Portland has seen a surge in gun violence over the last year. My family not only witnessed a shooting in August, but we’ve heard multiple shootings over the past year, and our community is shaken with the ongoing violence that has brought our murder rate to a 27 year high.
The combination of stifled economic opportunities, closed schools, struggling families, and the social and mental health challenges caused by extended social distancing is a recipe for a surge in gun violence. I am approaching solutions with the aforementioned causes in mind and with the perspective of treating violence as a public health issue. I am also part of a group of local leaders convened to address this surge in gun violence. Led by Pastor J.W. Matt Hennessee and Portland Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, this group brings together key stakeholders from across our community to develop new, trauma-informed, and culturally responsive methods of addressing the ongoing violence in our communities. I’ve also met with our District Attorney, Mike Schmidt, and the U.S. Attorney’s office to talk about the violence, as well as investigative and prosecutorial needs. And I’m continuing conversations with community-based organizations and constituents on how this issue affects our neighborhoods and families.
Like all of you, I understand the urgency of this issue and am committed to bringing a new strategy to addressing gun violence as quickly as possible.
We’ve also witnessed a tragic increase in traffic fatalities, with 54 people dying on Portland roadways in 2020, the highest figure in 24 years. A recent report from Multnomah County’s REACH program highlighted the stark racial disparities in traffic fatalities, with Black residents 1.9 times more likely to be the victim of a traffic fatality than white residents. The report found that all tracts with high percentages of Black residents (see map below) are touched by a high injury corridor and that 77 percent of these tracts are intersected or bordered by a high injury corridor. Not surprisingly, many of these dangerous areas are in east Portland.
That’s why I’ve consistently advocated for transportation investments in my district - from funding for Outer Powell when I was a legislator, to $540 million for 82nd Avenue in last November’s Let’s Get Moving transportation measure. It’s why I testified before the Oregon Transportation Commission this winter in support of spending more state highway funds on projects that prioritize equity and safety, and am advocating for Safe Routes for All legislation in Salem this year, which would increase funding for pedestrian and bike projects as well (add your name to this effort here).
I recently met with two of Portland’s transportation leaders, Ashton Simpson from Oregon Walks, whose organization is releasing its own report on the racial disparities in traffic fatalities this week, and Sarah Iannarone from The Street Trust, to discuss ways to stem the number of fatalities on our streets. We discussed getting speeding cameras online more quickly, lowering speed limits, increasing the number of marked crosswalks, investing in traffic calming infrastructure, improving lighting, and cracking down on distracted driving. I will continue to push for these measures and others.
Then there’s the disturbing and abhorrent rise in violence targeting our Asian American and Pacific Islander community.
I am dedicated to creating a safe place for all who call Multnomah County home, and I stand in strong solidarity with the Asian American and Pacific Islander community in fervently condemning the rise of anti-Asian violence, which has targeted elders, Asian-owned businesses, and the community as a whole. These incidents come after a year of increased reports of hate crimes directed at the Asian American and Pacific Islander community due to racist rhetoric about the origins of COVID-19.
We must not tolerate hate or violence in our community in any form. I encourage you to join me in denouncing these crimes and working to foster respect in our community. Additionally, if you or a loved one has been the victim of hate, please go to Portland United Against Hate for reporting resources, mental health and self-care guidance, and more. Also, our allies and partners at APANO have compiled resources to help support the Jade District businesses impacted by February’s violence, as well as educational tools to de-escalate harmful situations and support survivors.
These are challenging times, but I know that together we can persevere and emerge stronger.
Housing and Homelessness
Last week the Multnomah County Board and Portland City Council met jointly for our annual briefing on the work of the Joint Office of Homeless Services.
We all know that our community is grappling with a homelessness crisis that stems from our lack of affordable housing, and that the crisis has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. At this briefing, we heard about the Joint Office’s work to: expand our shelter system to accommodate social distancing; open medical motel shelters where individuals with COVID-19 symptoms can recover safely; and ensure that our homeless neighbors have access to critical services throughout the crisis.
I’m also acutely aware of the impact that camping and garbage accumulation has had, particularly on southeast and east Portland communities that have historically faced disinvestment. As we recover from the pandemic and look ahead, I’m committed to marshaling additional resources so we can clean up our streets while ensuring every member of our community has a safe place to sleep.
If you need a cleanup in your neighborhood, you can make the request here.
I’m excited to be reintroducing our constituent spotlight series, where I highlight incredible District 3 residents who labor to make our community a safer, more equitable place for us all to call home.
This month I’m profiling my friend John Mulvey, an east Portland activist, resident, and member of the Multnomah County Elections team. You can read the spotlight here.
I hope you’ll join me this Saturday morning, from 10-11 am for coffee and conversation about the many issues facing our community. Bring your concerns, questions, and ideas.
You can register for this event here, and I hope to see you there!