Oregon residents flee Portland area as fentanyl overdoses, crime, housing costs increase

“If you're a drug addict on the streets of Portland, and you get free food, free housing, free water, free needles, and have $2 fentanyl, why would you put yourself into treatment if you don't have to go?”

Ari Hoffman Seattle WA
For the first time in over a decade, Oregon’s Multnomah County, which includes Portland, saw its population decrease in 2021, according to numbers released by the US Census Bureau.

12,494 people, or 1.5 percent of the population fled the liberal county. The Portland Metro area itself saw a more modest decline of 0.2 percent after growing for 30 years straight.

The population loss was comparatively less than in other urban areas, as residents and businesses flee the Democratic strongholds due to rising crime and increasing costs of living. Comparatively, San Francisco lost 6.3 percent of its residents in one year.

According to the data, US cities with high housing costs saw people fleeing for more affordable, midsized cities. As residents left the Bay Area and Los Angeles, cities such as St. George, Utah, and Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, saw the most percentage increases.

The director of the Population Research Center at Portland State University Charles Rynerson told the Willamette Week in 2022 in response to another decrease that the population loss in Portland was driven largely by net migration losses, more people departing than arriving, in Washington County and more so in Multnomah County.

As the population has declined, fentanyl overdoses in the Portland area have skyrocketed.

According to KOMO News, residents on all sides of the political aisle are blaming Oregon Measure 110, which decriminalized personal possession of drugs and was approved by voters back in the fall of 2020.

Portland Democratic Mayor Ted Wheeler said Fentanyl overdoses have spiked 588 percent between 2019 and 2021 adding that the good intentions of decriminalization were harmed by bad execution. “We don't have substance use disorder treatment to any great capacity in our state. Measure 110 was brought to the ballot by a group of Oregon residents with the hope that, on one hand, they would decriminalize small amounts of personal use of drugs. But in exchange, there would be substantial new resources going into treatment."

Sarah Holland, the director of supportive housing for the non-profit Central City Concern told the outlet, “It’s not only the increased presence of fentanyl, but the strength of it. You know, Measure 110 is a great illustration of the right problem, not exactly the right solution?”

Holland added, “If you're a drug addict on the streets of Portland, and you get free food, free housing, free water, free needles, and have $2 fentanyl, why would you put yourself into treatment if you don't have to go?”

Measure 110 was supposed to use cannabis tax revenue to pay for addiction recovery centers. However, the money has not been directed accordingly.

Wheeler’s office also reported a 50 percent increase in homelessness from 2019 to 2022. 

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