Media rhetoric in Old Town undermines public health debate

By Israel Bayer, Executive Director

Last month I tagged a story in my Director’s Desk titled, “Old Town Chinatown relations misguided.” The article argued that bad press and a major push to create political change by the neighborhood could have a negative impact on business in the area.

The Portland Tribune published a series of articles that in my opinion are sensationalized journalism for a political means. One article (above the fold) appeared with a photo of what appears to be an individual on the streets smoking crack cocaine with the headline “Crack Alley.”

I called the Tribune editors and the writer, Peter Korn, to ask them if they actually had proof that the person was smoking cocaine after people on the streets brought it to SR attention that there’s no way it could be cocaine due to the manner in which the drug is smoked. SR talked to more than a dozen addicts and former addicts, and they all believed it was marijuana, a very big difference.

SR did not have proof one way or the other. The story died.

SR had been privy to conversations that the strategy by the neighborhood was to raise a big stink, and create so much political theater (through the press) that the mayor would have to publically react to the drug dealing in the neighborhood.

Korn’s “Crack Alley” became the mantra, and it didn’t take long before Mayor Adams responded with a plan that resembles a drug-free zone; a plan that targets poor people and African-Americans in an attempt to sweep America’s drug problem off the open market in Old Town.

Last week the Tribune and Korn produced yet another sensationalized piece about homelessness in Old Town with the subtitle, “Housing First policy opens the doors to alcoholics and drug users.”

The article lays out critics’ concerns about the new Bud Clark Commons, a building that will house people dealing with an addiction. The article also calls into question the Housing First policy supported by the federal government through the 10-year plan to end homelessness.

The article quotes advocates and service providers questioning the validity of offering “wet” housing for individuals on the streets. The article alludes that the city, or local government, has failed in its responsibility to people on the streets.

It also calls into question the Housing First policy, and the philosophy of housing people who are at risk of dying on the streets because of their addiction and because they’re sleeping outdoors with very little support.

Korn’s article offers no public health perspective or examples of facts from other cities, including Seattle, that have been successful in using “wet” housing to support addicts while they get help. Or how progressive harm reduction initiatives, such as those in Vancouver, B.C., have demonstrably stemmed the tide of addiction and death from overdoses.

The article doesn’t include context for the Housing First policy. In fact, it doesn’t even quote one government official, or give readers perspective by offering up how many people have been housed in the past five years. A quick records request revealed that between 2005 and 2010 the City of Portland and Multnomah County had successfully housed more than 5,000 individuals, and 2,000 homeless families.

The article doesn’t touch on the real subject matter at hand, resources and priorities. The real issue here is the federal government’s lack of support for housing on a national level.

Instead of concentrating on the facts, Korn provides coffee shop talk from advocates and social-service providers about their opinions on the new “wet” housing program and the Housing First policy.

Why does this matter? In a time when social-service programs are being cut across the board, and a growing anti-tax and government agenda is taking hold of the population, articles like these create an avenue for those voices to gain stream and to alter the public view of the government’s role for supporting the downtrodden.

The real issues outlined above, such as drug dealing, addiction and how it relates to housing and neighborhood livability, are public health issues, and it’s the government’s responsibility to maintain harm reduction services to maintain a healthy society. It’s the media’s responsibility to deliver the general public as many different perspectives on a specific issue as possible, followed by facts that support these views.

In the cases outlined above, the media, namely The Portland Tribune has failed to look at these issues in-depth, and instead has chosen to go with a minority of voices and rhetoric instead of looking at all of the facts and presenting the story at hand. Portland deserves better.

3 responses to “Media rhetoric in Old Town undermines public health debate

  1. I recently had the opportunity to tour the new Bud Clark Commons building (formerly known as the RAC – Resource Access Center). My concerns were: (1) will drug addicted folks be living next door to those who are not? and (2) if a person does not suffer from mental illness, addiction, or poor health (besides being homeless) then they would not qualify for housing. I did applaud the fact that the new building, will house access to some medical services, but was unsure how law enforcement would be playing a role, if any, at the site (the new building actually houses three separate planned programs to assist homeless).

  2. David K. Bailey

    I agree the voice of the prominent elite reaks havok on the impoverished, that the real story of the downtrodden is a politico-tool and that services are being quantitatively sanctioned. Where I differ, however is the amount of return guido on exposing the whole truth, only truth, so help us God, Portland and USA in refuting, defuting, these untruths. DOESNT ANYONE IN NEWSPRINT DO EXPOSES ANYMORE ? I was homeless with pneumonia, broken feet and MRSA before I got subsidy… many people verses dallors does life saving housing cost ? The standard of truth is askewed so much that no ones story is taken at 100 percent anymore, just scanned,…you have a cause, you have a story, too sell to whom? After you sell it, will I believe it? use it? resell it? vote on it? Will it pay my rent, my hospital bills, my bus and telephone, and..for how long and how many people. Since housed, I now have asthma and beginnings of COPD. You have to keep the scope of your story as sterile from human immorality as the ability at keeping the confidence that you are telling the truth yourselves. Humanity Spirituality has sunk to new lows, as long I can twist the angle of your work and pay my rent from it, people like me and others who live life at more meager means may already be dead or dying. Can You say your next article is viable evidence in a state court, so help you God? I believe you to be a fair and good man, but being an editor or newspaper man I hardly think anything I said is news to you.

  3. *Redundancy.Freakin smartphones are chlngenailg to type on! About the topic of the article, I think Rod Perry is an excellent hire for OSU! Say what you will about his age, his experience speaks volumes. Go look at the coaching staffs in the SEC, age isn’t a priority, experience is! Traditionally, even when OSU had an outstanding defense, they were not very good defending the pass. They were highly ranked both nationally and in conference against the run, but they were mediocre at best defending the pass. OSU can use all of the help they can get defending the pass, and getting the defense off the field on 3rd downs! Recruiting more speed would help too, but solid technique and being smart can go a long way too.

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