Digest: Friday, January 21, 2022

Portland Street Response set for expansion as People for Portland attempts to take advantage

Portland Street Response is only a year old and is already slated for expansion across the entire city in March. The emergency responders, who focus on building trust with community members and providing unarmed support during crises, will start responding to calls outside of the East Precinct sometime in the next few months. They’re currently hiring in order to build out the staff necessary to support city-wide responses. Those new hires are only being offered limited-term contracts, listing an end date of June 30, 2022. Over the course of the last year, PSR resulted in a 22.5% decrease in Portland Police Bureau responses on calls related to welfare checks, unwanted persons, and related issues, as well as a 11.6% reduction on Portland Fire & Rescue calls for behavioral health concerns and illegal burns, at least in the areas served by PSR — with a fraction of the budgets of PPB and PF&R. Even with those impressive numbers, it’s likely PSR could have done even more in the last year if Portland residents had better ways of reaching response teams, given the many issues at Portland’s 911 service.

In the meanwhile, however, dark money group People for Portland, are attempting to take advantage of PSR’s successes. During a poll conducted in December, People for Portland misleadingly described PSR as focused on moving homeless people off the streets and into shelters (rather than their actual work of responding to street crises). The poll went on to ask respondents if they supported requiring people who are homeless to live in shelters. While there are several reasons for concerns about People for Portland’s willingness to fudge details in pursuit of their goals, here’s what stands out:

Rose Quarter freeway expansion sees federal pushback

This week, the Federal Highway Administration rescinded approval for a key document needed for the Oregon Department of Transportation’s planned expansion of Interstate 5 in Northeast Portland. That document, the ‘Finding of No Significant Impact,’ is proof that a given highway project has completed necessary environmental assessments and found no concerns. The revocation comes after new analysis of the project based on negotiations between ODOT and a variety of stakeholders. ODOT claims that the change won’t affect the project’s timeline. However, if a highway project doesn’t qualify for FONSI documentation, that project must go through a more rigorous and time-consuming environmental assessment to look at specific concerns.

These federal concerns come on top of a lawsuit by the Eliot Neighborhood Association in partnership with environmental advocacy organizations, 19 protests by Sunrise PDX (with their next protest scheduled for February 2), parent protests around moving Harriet Tubman Middle School, and reports that the project is already short of hundreds of millions of dollars. The expansion’s goal is to reduce congestion on Interstate 5, although data shows that expanding freeways increases pollution, as well as increasing congestion in the long-term (despite cutting it in the short term). Perhaps ODOT should consider this latest setback a sign to consider other options for managing car congestion in Portland.

OHA faces anti-mask protestors as well as a faltering healthcare system

Anti-mask protestors gathered outside the Oregon Health Authority’s Portland building yesterday during a public hearing. In addition to burning masks, they threatened people passing by and counter-protestors.

Thursday’s hearing covered a ‘permanent’ indoor mask mandate. Currently, the indoor mask mandate must be renewed every 180 days. A permanent mandate would remove the renewal requirement and remain in place until OHA determines masks are no longer needed in public spaces. Public testimony at the hearing was mostly in opposition to a permanent mandate, as well as in favor of removing temporary mandates.

In addition to protests, OHA is facing a hospital system headed towards a breaking point. While some projections suggest that Omicron infections will peak around the end of January, Oregon’s healthcare systems are already pushed beyond capacity. Those projections may be overly optimistic, based on waste water samples. As of Thursday, more than 1,030 people were hospitalized due to COVID with more than 10,000 new total cases being reported daily. Waste water samples also indicate that there are far more cases than are reported, likely due both to a lack of reporting around home tests as well as the inaccessibility of testing for many people.

Hospital beds aren’t the only constraint for treating COVID patients: The U.S. had a shortage of nurses and other medical professionals prior to the pandemic and that shortage has increased dramatically, due to burnout, disability, and death over the past two years. Facilities other than hospitals have also been hit hard, resulting in patients remaining in hospitals long after they would normally have been moved to a skilled nursing facility or a rehabilitation program. Governor Kate Brown has deployed 1,200 National Guard members to support trained staff — but that’s not a long-term solution when 60% of nurses are considering quitting.

By Thursday Bram

Thursday Bram founded PDX.Vote after making numerous zines, newsletters, and other media about politics in Portland, Oregon. Thursday has also written for publications ranging from Autostraddle.com to Entrepreneur Magazine. You can find more of Thursday's work at ThursdayBram.com.