Amid Murders, Riots, and Homelessness, Portland Struggles to Repair Its Brand

By Scottie Barnes
Scottie Barnes
Scottie Barnes
December 1, 2021 Updated: December 2, 2021

After 18 months of social justice protests, uncontrolled riots, soaring crime rates, and record homelessness, the City of Portland, Oregon, is struggling to attract tourists and retain businesses.

“Our central city occupancy in September lagged behind every competitive city that we track, except for Minneapolis and San Francisco,” Jeff Miller, president and CEO of Travel Portland, told the Portland City Council at its Oct. 27 meeting.

“Recovery is happening elsewhere, just not here.”

In a survey commissioned by Travel Portland, two thirds of respondents said that racial and social justice protests make them less likely to visit Portland in the next two years.

City councillor Mingus Mapps is not surprised.

“Too many people around the world now associate Portland with homelessness and homicide,” Mapps said in the meeting. “This new skepticism is holding back our city’s cultural and economic recovery, and having a profound impact on many industries, including tourism.”

In 2019, Portland’s tourism industry supported 36,000 jobs. Today it employs fewer than 26,000, he explained. “Portland will not recover until we get those jobs back.”

But the city’s well-earned bad reputation is hampering those efforts.

According to the FBI’s 2020 crime data, Portland’s deadly violence is increasing at a faster rate than all major cities except Milwaukee, with an 83 percent jump in homicides.

Gun violence is soaring year over year.

Portland had 388 shootings in 2019 and 891 in 2020.

This year has already surpassed those numbers.

As of Nov. 30, 2021, the city had witnessed 1,168 shootings and 354 people had been injured in gun violence, the Portland Police Bureau told The Epoch Times in an email.

Of the 79 people killed in the city this year, 59 were the result of gun violence.

Portland Police have struggled to quell the violence in the wake of defunding. The city cut $27 million from police budgets in 2020.

In the past year, nearly 170 sworn members have left the Portland police force, according to the department.

The city has also disbanded a special unit focused on curbing gun violence, after it was criticized for disproportionately targeting people of color.

“With less patrol officers, we are focused on primarily answering 911 calls,” Portland Police told The Epoch Times.

“There is limited time for any proactive work or missions, including investigations. We do not have the detectives to respond to property crimes, as we are putting most of our resources toward person crimes, which have increased dramatically.”

Meanwhile, homelessness—and its associated crime and drug use—is driving away customers and threatening the future of small businesses.

Businesses in the city’s central east side report being under siege by burgeoning homeless camps.

“Our problems seem insurmountable,” testified Kim Malek, of Salt & Straw, during the Oct. 27 meeting.

Malek explained that the ice creamery has employed 200 people in Portland for the past 10 years.

“My job is to provide a safe work environment for my employees. Right now they do not feel safe.”

Malek said her employees have been held up, assaulted, and propositioned on their way to work.

“They walk past people shooting up on the sidewalks”, and step over needles and other hazardous waste on the ground, she added.

The business has been vandalized, tagged with graffiti, and forced to temporarily shut down because trees around the building had been set on fire.

“Our compressors and freezers have been damaged and we’ve lost ice cream,” Malek continued. The business would like to expand, but candidates lose interest after seeing the conditions surrounding the corporate headquarters.

These problems have real costs to businesses.

“We’ve hired private security and spent money on repairs that could have been spent on business expansion,” Malek said.

The company has also spent more than $100,000 on lighting, fencing, and video surveillance.

Lyndsey Crawford, Human Resources director for Stumptown Coffee, shared similar concerns.

“We can’t keep up,” Crawford testified. “Our fleet of delivery vans are regularly vandalized, with gas tanks drilled and catalytic converters sawed off. Employee cars are broken into in broad daylight. Our businesses have been broken into. Our employees are scared.”

She described “truly unbelievable” scenes of a “mental health and addiction crises,” including people on the streets with machetes and others in an “altered state and in need of professional help.”

Mayor Ted Wheeler, a Democrat, agreed that Portland is in crisis.

“We need to address homelessness,” Wheeler responded in the meeting. “We are dedicated to improving public safety, addressing gun violence, petty theft, and other criminal activity that takes a toll on the fabric of this community.”

As the city struggles to confront these complex problems, Travel Portland is working to fix its damaged brand.

On Nov. 23, the agency launched its newest in a series of marketing campaigns.

“We understand that visitors have questions about what’s going on in Portland; we have the answers,” said the Travel Portland campaign post.

“Portland—like many cities—is currently confronting issues related to social justice, liveability and the COVID-19 pandemic. Amid it all, Portland is a safe place to visit.”

Meanwhile the agency is responding to calls for social justice.

“We are applying a DEI [Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion] lens to everything we do,” Miller testified.

“In our outreach to media, we are making sure that minority owned businesses are highlighted.”

Among other steps, he said that the agency has contracted with three black-owned firms to produce its videos, implemented a multicultural sales and hiring strategy, and hired a vice president of diversity, equity, and inclusion.