Portland's population drops amid crime, homelessness, other woes

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    Major West Coast cities including Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle have seen many residents pack up and leave, amid the coronavirus pandemic, crime and dissatisfaction with left-wing policies. In fact, U-Haul found California was responsible for the largest one-way net loss of trucks. Now, Oregon’s Portland could next in line for a significant exodus.

    Portland census data showed the city has lost 0.04% of its population after growing for 30 years straight. Though the general population has declined for three years in a row, Mayor Ted Wheeler’s office reported a 50% increase in homelessness from 2019 to 2022. The mayor, a Democrat, also revealed Portland’s number of homeless encampments has topped 700. In a bid to ban camping on streets and encroachment by next year, Wheeler has sanctioned the first city-run outdoor homeless camp. It’s expected to house up to 150 people, a far cry from the more than 3,000 people estimated to be homeless in the city.

    “Walking around, it’s hard to not notice used needles, nudity, human feces and the stench of urine coming from our large homeless population,” said Cobalt Kaiser, a second-year Portland resident. 

    Not only are individual residents being driven out by a falling quality of life and soaring crime, but also entire corporations. Businesses are struggling given the 11.1% increase in year-over-year property crime and 16.9% rise in burglaries last year, as seen in Portland Police Bureau data.

    On Monday, outdoor gear store REI became the most recent retail giant to announce its departure from Portland. The company said it faced its highest level of break-ins and thefts last year, despite increasing security. REI has had its Portland flagship open for nearly 20 years. The outdoor retailer’s announcement came just one month after Walmart decided to shutter its last two stores in Portland. Nike, which has kept a key Portland store closed for months due to retail theft, was even willing to pay the city for officers in order to reopen.

    Several local businesses have also reported not one, but multiple hits. Middle Eastern restaurant DarSalam’s owner, Ghaith Sahib, said he’s been struggling to keep his restaurants afloat amid constant break-ins and vandalism. Sahib noted how his eateries have been hurt by petty theft and shoplifting, usually by homeless people. “The police are very helpful but can’t guarantee a prosecution. It’s sad.”

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    Homeless encampment.

    A tent city with a sign that says “autonomous zone” set up in Portland, Oregon. (Derek Davis/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images, File)

    As Portland PD faced a dichotomy of a record-high 101 homicides and record-low police officers last year, District Attorney Mike Schmidt pursued progressive bail reforms. The Multnomah County D.A. has implemented a program replacing some mandatory prison sentences with supervised probation and behavioral health treatment. Schmidt, whose term started during the height of the 2020 George Floyd protests, has argued that such treatment would lower re-offenses more than incarceration. Those who committed sex offenses, kidnapping, domestic violence and homicides would not be eligible under the program.

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    “Portland isn’t broken, and most of the chaos has subsided. We have supported our police bureau and successfully recruited and retained officers,” rebutted Portland City Commissioner Mingus Mapps, a Democrat. “Portland is coming back.”

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    A tent city set up in Portland, Oregon.

    A tent camp set up for homeless people in Portland, Oregon. (Rebecca Smeyne/Bloomberg via Getty Images, File)

    Also against this backdrop: high mortgage and interest rates. Real estate brokerage firm Redfin reported Portland’s median home sale price has been 26% higher than the national average. Redfin also found the cost of living to be 24% higher than the national average.

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    “Portland used to be an accepting, friendly, beautiful and clean city. Now, so many good people leaving the area and it feels like they are being replaced with criminals or homeless. But my family and business is here, so we hope things get better, because this is our home,” lamented Sahib – a hope echoed by many others in the city.

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