Portland's Meltdown: A Progressive Experiment That 'Has Gone Colossally Bad'
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PORTLAND, Oregon – The West Coast city of Portland has long been known for its wacky, weird counterculture. TV comedies have made fun of it. But a growing number of Portlanders aren't laughing anymore, as a once great city has become dangerous and unlivable.
An army of community journalists in Portland have been capturing a city in decline: public drug abuse, addicts sprawled on the sidewalks or wandering the streets, tent encampments on many street corners, and fires seen burning along the roadways.
What was once known as one of America's most beautiful and livable cities is being slowly destroyed by an epidemic of crime, drug abuse, homelessness, and mental illness. One local compared Portland to an 'open air insane asylum.'
Erecting Empty Tents to Attract the Homeless
We went to one of Portland's many tent encampments with drug and alcohol counselor Kevin Dahlgren, who is trying to help the city's addicts. Many of the tents were supplied by Multnomah County.
Dahlgren believes at least some officials are okay with what's happened to the city.
"How could they not be okay with it for as long as this has gone on?" Dahlgren asked. "Every day we walk past these camps, we see people languishing and dying on the streets. That is not okay. Every year we say this is a state of emergency, right? But who here is treating it like a true state of emergency?"
Dahlgren says activists actually erect empty tents to attract more tents.
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"That is a common practice to invite homeless to be homeless," Dahlgren said. "And that makes our job now ten times harder. They will just erect the tents in hopes that a person will find the tent and move inside."
During our time with Dahlgren he met one homeless man who said he was given a bus ticket to Portland by the city of Billings, Montana.
A 'Mecca' for Addicts
Portland has become a mecca for addicts and drug dealers who have migrated there from across the country to take advantage of weak drug laws. Drug cartels are also believed to be operating in the city.
On March 31st alone, police and rescue teams responded to 11 drug overdoses.
One pill of fentanyl can be as cheap as one dollar.
A Portland photographer who goes by the street name of Michelle Ghost has been capturing the decline of the city through her lens. "I feel like we've invited people to come to our city to kill themselves," she said. "We're helping people stay alive just long enough to die on our streets."
After rioting over George Floyd's death resulted in the destruction of large swaths of Portland in 2020, Mayor Ted Wheeler thanked the rioters, before he was hit with tear gas.
Things got worse for the city when Oregon voters approved Measure 110. It decriminalized possession of small amounts of drugs, making it a health care issue, not a crime. Police officials say it's led to a huge increase in the amount of drugs on the streets, followed by a surge in crime.
It wasn't always like this.
The 1957 film Portland Expose described the city as "...a family town, a good place to bring up children." Now, in today's Portland, a viral video on Twitter shows a junkie using drugs in front of a child.
Just last week a man beat someone with a golf club in front of a Portland coffee shop. The nervous owners then offered the attacker hot coffee which he dumped on the victim.
Businesses Flee the City
Now 79% of the businesses surveyed in Portland report being victims of vandalism or break-ins, and 19% have been vandalized at least 5 times.
Business owner Jim Rice told us, "Our business has been vandalized over a half a dozen times. We've had five burglaries in our business. We've had over $100,000 worth of impact."
Walmart and Cracker Barrel are part of a wave of businesses fleeing the city. More than 2,600 downtown businesses have also left.
Tech company owner Gabe Johnson is also looking to relocate. Johnson said, "By us continuing to keep our business within Multnomah County and the Portland city limits, we are giving money to the problem, and so we're going to move."
A Progressive Experiment That Has Gone 'Colossally Bad'
Angela Todd, a community reporter with PDX Real said, "Portland's social experiment, this progressive experiment, has gone colossally bad. I can't stress it enough. It has impacted everything from our banks being broken into, ATMs are being stolen, we have people that are just going to work walking in their neighborhood, being assaulted."
Jeff Altonen with PDX Real said, "It's like it's in some sort of controlled demolition really. And I say that because a lot of this stuff comes from policy."
Portland is 'Candyland' for Car Thieves
Lax laws against car theft have turned the crime into a growth industry in Portland. One out of every two police stops in the city involves a stolen car.
We went to one of Portland's former chop sites with Nick Haas, the founder of Guardians Theft Recovery, a community-based group that has helped recover more than 700 stolen vehicles.
"This is the site of the Midway Chop operation," Haas told us. "The Midway Chop operated for about six to nine months and our crew estimates about 250 to 300 stolen vehicles were illegally processed and cut up into pieces at this site. And because it's 'catch and release' if you got caught in a stolen vehicle, you're going to get held for about 48 hours. You get put back out on the street. So, it kind of became like a Candyland for some."
Critics call Portland the poster child for what happens when progressive policy goes too far.
Is Portland Turning a Corner or Dying?
Portland officials are now conducting "tent sweeps" to clean up the city and some believe Portland may be turning a corner.
But drug abuse, homelessness and crime remain high.
"Imagine, absent some of the decay we've seen, what a great place it could be to live," says 'MC Street Truth,' the alias of a Portland businessman who co-founded the Coalition to Save Portland with Gabe Johnson.
'MC Street Truth' told us he remembered "...when we used to celebrate that Portland's weird. 'This is how it is, it's weird, it's quirky.'"
But he added, "It's not funny anymore. We'd like to go back to when Portland was just weird. Now it's just scary."
One writer has asked, "How long does it take for a city to die?"
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