Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler addressed a packed community hall at Portland Community College’s Southeast campus as he held a public forum discussing homelessness in Portland.

The community conversation was part of the Portland Downtown Neighborhood Association’s Educational Forum on Homelessness and included panels on mental health, substance abuse and addiction recovery.

Wheeler addressed more than 100 people in a packed community hall, a space with a maximum capacity of 169 people. Dozens were diverted by PCC staff to the nearby Mt. Tabor building, into an “overflow” room to watch a livestream of the panel.

Wheeler later spoke to the second group to hear the community’s concerns.

“The main theme I’m hearing over and over again is the need to address connecting people to whatever services they need to get off and stay off the streets,” Wheeler said.

“For a lot of people that means mental health services, for others it means substance abuse and addiction recovery services — others still, are talking about the need for more disability services. So we’ve moved way beyond the conversation of shelter.”

Wheeler said for many people who are chronically homeless, such services are critical to sustain housing.

“It’s not just about the inability for people to pay rent, it’s not just about the lack of affordable housing — for many, the most chronically homeless on our streets, it’s about having services be delivered alongside that housing so that people can stay in that housing and be successful in that housing.”

In September 2019, the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners approved preliminary plans for a behavioral resource center in downtown Portland. The center would offer immediate basic services as well as connections to treatment and transitional housing. The center aims to be completed and operational by September 2021.

Wheeler said 6,000 people were moved off the streets last year, but that there’s more work to be done for Portland communities experiencing homelessness.

Wheeler will hold three more community conversations throughout February and March in different areas of Portland. The next forum will be held at Beaumont Middle School on Thursday, Feb. 13, in central Northeast Portland.