Republican Christine Drazan answers OPB’s questions on the homelessness crisis

Editor’s Note: OPB is reaching out to the three leading candidates to become Oregon’s next governor to see where they fall on the issues. Here are Republican Christine Drazan’s responses to our written questions about how to address the state’s homelessness crisis:

What do you believe are the specific causes of Oregon’s homelessness crisis?

My opponents will say a lack of affordable housing is the primary driver, and while our housing costs are certainly a factor, a housing first response is a failed approach that glosses over the more inconvenient truths about the crisis in our streets. The reality is, the state has failed to support Oregonians suffering from substance abuse and mental health issues. In many cases, politicians have actually made things worse. Decriminalizing hard drugs like heroin and methamphetamine has only exacerbated addiction rates. At the same time, promised recovery supports that were included in Measure 110 have been mired in bureaucratic incompetence for months. Tina Kotek is personally responsible for pushing through a policy which effectively legalized tent camping in Oregon. Instead of enabling homelessness we must balance our approach with a mindset of both compassion and accountability.

What is a metric you will use to gauge your administration’s success on homelessness?

One of the biggest challenges we have in responding to our homeless crisis is understanding exactly how many people are living on our streets at any given time. The current point in time count is limited and difficult to monitor for progress in real time. The metric has to be an end to encampments, and fewer people living under tattered tarps surrounded by trash along streets and sidewalks. The Built for Zero model, in use in jurisdictions across the metro area, includes a goal of helping communities reach a “functional zero” homeless population, where homelessness is rare and temporary. The Built for Zero model uses data to address homelessness across service providers and between jurisdictions on a case-by-case basis rather than with a blanket approach.

What is a reasonable timetable for meeting that metric?

Addressing homelessness will need to continue to be a priority even as we make progress and even after we reach functional zero. But the sooner we are willing to embrace a data-driven approach that recognizes the complexity of this challenge and relies on both accountability and compassion, the sooner the experience of homelessness will be rare and temporary, not permanent and chronic.

What type of homeless shelters are the most effective? Low barrier? Or those that require something from residents? Where should they be located?

In every policy decision related to homelessness we must address the crisis with both compassion and accountability. The shelters that are peer run, with agreements among residents for expectations, shared responsibilities, and which operate with or without a nominal payment for rent, offer the best opportunity for stability and safety for those who are ready to transition from shelters to subsidized housing and gainful employment. We must balance the need to get people off the street and into a safe place to sleep with the need to address issues related to substance abuse and other untreated issues. Low barrier shelters are already an option, but they cannot be the default option. Long-term progress must address substance use and substance use disorder. Shelter options which prohibit drug use support those who have decided to seek treatment and pursue long-term recovery, as well as those who are experiencing homelessness but not facing the challenges of addiction. To solve homelessness in the long term we have to solve our addiction crisis as a state, which means we need to make the best option the one that presents opportunities to get into treatment and recovery. Harm reduction programs enable the proliferation of drugs on our streets. Shelter options that provide case management as well as mental and behavioral health services with a focus on addiction treatment and long-term recovery are critical.

Was Project Turnkey a good idea? Should it be expanded?

Project Turnkey is a good fit in the communities that welcome it, but the long-term obligations to maintain and run the facilities cannot fall to the state. I do not support expansion of the program at this time. The program in my region was being used to move homeless individuals out of the metro area, into a hotel in a remote rural area with no social services and extremely limited transportation options. The project as proposed failed to earn the support of my local community.

How would you suggest helping people move beyond homeless shelters and into more permanent housing?

We have to help Oregonians get sober and stay sober. The reality is that not everyone on the street is ready to make this commitment to their own future. The movement from a shelter into permanent housing depends on mental health, behavior health and workforce training. We must make a commitment to help people recover from the experience of living on the streets, whether that is addiction recovery or mental health supports, it will take time to transition back to wellness for many who have experienced long-term homelessness. Supportive housing may be the next step for some and for others entering into training for work and stable employment may be possible, but for those committed to getting back on their feet and into permanent housing, we will work with them to support their goal of achieving self-sufficiency.

Should people camping illegally face citations or criminal charges?

HB 3115, authored by Tina Kotek, made it overly complicated for local governments to enforce local laws and ordinances surrounding tent camping and loiting. The bill was a mistake and has only made things worse. Cities and counties must have the ability to maintain community standards to protect the health of those who are homeless as well as the surrounding neighborhoods impacted by the drugs and trash that accompany encampments. The issue is not whether or not someone faces criminal charges or a citation as much as it is whether or not the local jurisdiction has the authority to take actions necessary to ensure public health and community safety is maintained. Just as we offer compassion and support services to our homeless neighbors, we also have a responsibility to provide personal accountability and uphold the rule of law.

How would you address homelessness that is affecting areas outside of the Portland metro region?

Local governments need to be given back local control. They also need help and state level support with addressing the crisis on their streets, no matter where they are located. Addiction and mental health are complex drivers of this problem. Those exist challenges statewide in downtown Portland, suburban communities and rural Oregon. In many ways, those living in rural Oregon have a tougher time accessing the support they need to overcome these challenges because services are simply not available in their community. I will support local communities in addressing homelessness in a way that is responsive to their local resources, continuing to recognize the need for shelter and supportive housing options, while also investing in addiction and mental health support statewide.

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