On the final day of the program students had the chance to meet with and interview city Commissioner Nick Fish. Students focused mainly on the issue of gentrification and homelessness in their interview. They were then asked to craft a piece either profiling Nick Fish or discussing Portland’s homelessness crisis (or a combination of the two)
By Adelina Bajrami
It is no mystery that one of Portland’s most pressing issues is homelessness. Spread out across the city are people sleeping on the streets or taking shelter by waterfront park or tenting along Burnside. As a result, there is a high possibility you will pass by a homeless person lounging on a street corner with a sign begging for a bit of change. Even
with the various organizations and people volunteering their time to help those in need, the homeless population continues to grow at alarming rates. For one, housing in the city is becoming less and less affordable, pushing people out of their homes and onto the streets to fend for themselves. Others have difficulty securing stable work, therefore being unable to support themselves financially. And others are suffering forms of addiction and cannot receive the help and care they need. No matter what a homeless person’s situation may be, it is our responsibility as a community to aid those who require our assistance and build a better environment.
For the past few years, the cost of living in Portland has dramatically increased. This is mainly because of gentrification, or the displacement of low-income families or small businesses due to the increase of property values from urban renewal. As a result of rising prices, people find they can no longer afford to live in their homes and are forced to relocate to another neighborhood or even outside the city. Among these people are those who are unable to find alternative housing, and henceforth become a part of the homeless community.
According to Portland’s Commissioner Nick Fish— in charge of the Portland Water Bureau and the Bureau of Environmental Services— the city plans to combat this housing issue by building more affordable homes; however, many residents wonder where exactly these properties are being constructed, how long they will take to build, and how much they will cost. Even if the city manages to assemble affordable housing, how can we get the homeless into these homes if many don’t have sufficient funds of paying for these living spaces?
Coupled with the issue of homelessness is unemployment. Right now, there are people who are unemployed or work low paying jobs. Although Portland’s unemployment rates have been steadily decreasing (currently at 4.4%), there are still those folks who struggle to land a job that pays well enough to support their lifestyle. As a consequence of not being able to financially sustain themselves, these people can easily wind up without a place to stay. Building affordable housing can only do so much if people are finding it difficult to secure a job. What the city needs to think about is creating more job opportunities not only for the unemployed, but also for the homeless who need to generate some kind of income to live in the affordable housing the city states it is working on making.
Besides the homeless requiring affordable living spaces and work, there are those among the population who are either addicts or mentally ill that demand just a little more than the rest. These people need to have access to a place to get proper care, and it is our duty as a community to help provide them the resources and services. A good start would be to lessen the stigma held towards the homeless, especially those who require extra care. They are humans trying to navigate life just like the rest of us, so why do we go so far as to ignore what’s really going on and not recognize our job to reach out to fellow brothers and sisters in need?
Housing and homelessness are easily the most prevalent issues surrounding our society today and do not get the attention they require. The homeless population continues to increase not just in Portland, but in other major cities across the United States as well; so as a collective, we need to focus on getting people off the streets and into shelters with clean water and food— something every human being should have the right to.
By Caroline Cook
Nick Fish, a kind, caring man and Portland commissioner of 8 years works hard everyday to make Portland a wonderful place to live no matter who you are.
1981 Harvard graduate, Nick Fish was elected to the Portland City Council in 2008 during a special election. He was then re-elected again in 2010 and in 2014.
Fish’s passion for public service began after he had graduated from college. He worked as a legislative assistance to Massachusetts Congressman, Barney Frank, which then sparked his interest in becoming a civil rights lawyer and advocate for affordable housing.
Nick Fish later moved to New York City and began his work as a lawyer representing health care workers and labor unions and eventually working on a non-profit to turn the Times Square Hotel into affordable housing. This led to creating a whole new community for theater district workers, citizens with AIDs and formerly homeless people.
Before becoming a Portland City Commissioner Nick Fish and during his long career as a lawyer he won an anti-discriminatory case protecting HIV patients, led a community union to save the Portland Women’s Crisis Line, and he has volunteered for legal services for the poor.
Currently, Fish serves as commissioner in charge of Portland Water Bureau and the Bureau of Environmental Services. He also works as Council to Elders in Action, Age-Friendly Cities, the Regional Arts and Culture Council, and Venture Portland. In the past he has served as the commissioner in charge of the Portland Housing Bureau and Portland Parks and Recreation. Nick Fish works hard at his job to ensure that Portland is a great city, as the Portland Mercury called him “one of the most effective and values-minded city commissioners during his six years on the council.”
Although Nick Fish doesn’t work on the Portland Housing Bureau any longer he still is working on improving an outdated problem that needs to be solved, a lack of affordable housing. This issue has caused an uprising in homelessness because many people unable to afford housing resort to the streets as a place to live. Fish says that there is a “…huge mismatch between the house we[Portland] build and the people’s budget.”
The city is working to solve this problem by spending lots of money to build affordable houses in desirable neighborhoods. The city is also working to solve the problem of homelessness by getting people of the street and into affordable homes, providing the people with addictions and mental illnesses the help they need, and by changing the attitudes of the people in Portland to give back to their communities and to help the homeless.
Nick Fish has been a public servant to our city for many years and has made some significant changes and is making plans to make even more. With the help of regular citizens doing their part we can make Fish’s dreams come true for the better of our community.
Photo Credit: Roger