Old Town business owner not yet ‘optimistic’ as Kotek signs 3 orders to address homelessness

PORTLAND Ore. (KPTV) – In her first days in office, Governor Tina Kotek signed three executive orders all in an effort to address the homelessness crisis statewide and in the Portland metro area.

One of those orders declares the homeless crisis a state of emergency, proposing to invest millions of dollars to get people off the streets.

Jessie Burke, owner of The Society Hotel, says that while these orders are encouraging, much more needs to be done to tackle the addiction and mental health crisis she sees on the streets every day.

“I see us as kind of ground zero, the worst possible scenario for everybody,” Burke says.

Burke is CEO of The Society Hotel in Old Town and president of The Old Town Community Association. She has also been vocal about dealing with drug use and crime in the area and getting the homeless the help they need.

Nearly a year ago, Burke helped the City of Portland craft a 90-day reset plan that focused on cleaning up Old Town, creating a central database for available shelter beds in the city and seeking more lighting.

SEE ALSO: Kotek signs three executive orders, focused on the housing and homelessness crisis

“It’s twofold,” Burke says of the lighting. “It’s more attractive and that’s one of our biggest problems is the darkness. There’s a lot more bad behavior when it’s dark.”

Although the Old Town reset officially only lasted 90 days, she says they are still working on improvements.

Now the state leadership enters the scene.

In just his first few days in office, Governor Kotek signed three executive orders, one declaring the homeless crisis a state of emergency and another ordering state agencies to prioritize reducing sheltered and unsheltered homelessness.

Governor Kotek has also set an ambitious goal of building 36,000 homes each year, but Burke says she’s not celebrating just yet.

“I’m not going to say I’m optimistic — it’s encouraging because we’re 10 days into the new year, but as someone who’s on the ground every day, you can hear me say it at every press conference, this one, in my opinion, is not necessarily a housing crisis, ” says Burke.

Combined with those, Kotek’s third order proposes a $130 million investment, hoping to get 1,200 Oregonians off the streets in a year and expand housing capacity by 600.

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Burke thinks they will take bolder steps to tackle deeper problems that pay, like addiction and mental health crises.

“If you believe that it’s just accommodation out there, you’re not involved and you’re not paying attention,” says Burke. “So it’s fine that we can declare a state of emergency for housing, but it’s not happening outside. I wish someone would declare a state of emergency because of what’s going on out there.”

Governor Kotek says the behavioral health approach is another part of her plan to get people off the streets.

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