Children are living and dying in Portland's homeless camps, writes Naomi Schaefer Riley in City Journal. Child-welfare agencies are taking a hands-off approach.
Oregon decriminalized drug possession in 2020. Drug abuse has soared. "Portland recorded 137 fatal overdoses in the first half of 2023, compared with 2022’s 12-month total of 155," writes Schaefer Riley. "Within a single ten-day period, three children under the age of four had overdosed and died after coming into contact" with fentanyl.
"Of the 358 fentanyl cases that the Oregon Poison Control Center handled in 2022 (a 220 percent increase from 2021), 46 were pediatric," she writes.
The fumes are dangerous too, says Terrance Moses, founder of the homeless-outreach group Neighbors Helping Neighbors PDX. "He has to wash his clothes after entering the homeless encampments" and he wears a hazmat suit in certain camps.
Children live in these grim places; no one knows how many. But Moses has seen their faces peeking out of tents. “I mean infants, all the way up to high school. At first, [the parents] are standoffish,” he says. “They hide their kids because they don’t want to be reported.”
Yet, if they are reported, nothing will happen, says Kevin Dahlgren, who does homeless outreach in Portland. He called Oregon Department of Health Services to report a naked three-year-old girl, standing alone in the woods near discarded hypodermic needles, with her parents “nodded out a half-mile away.” The operator refused to send anyone to investigate, he told Schaefer Riley. She said,“Poverty is not a crime.”
"The narrative that child protective services rips kids out of their homes just because their parents are poor has become pervasive in academia and activist circles," writes Schaefer Riley. But there's little evidence to support it.
A recent California study found that 99 percent of physical neglect investigations "included concerns related to substance use, domestic violence, mental illness, co-reported abuse or an additional neglect allegation (i.e., abandonment).”
Another study children from welfare families reported for neglect were doing significantly worse than those from welfare families with no reported neglect.
Child-welfare workers are "very woke," says Dahlgren. "They want to tell you about a person’s right to be homeless. Do kids have rights? What about those who aren’t allowed to speak for themselves or who are barely talking?”
Things are getting worse, says Bill Russell, a former prosecutor who headed a mission offering help for the homeless and addicted. Now, he charges, the “DHS is no longer drug-testing neglectful parents”—even those facing investigation. “So you don’t know if the parents are meth-active or heroin-active or whatever.”
A DHS worker told Schaefer Riley that there's no official policy against drug testing, but ordering a drug test "requires filling out at least four forms, making it improbable that regular testing will happen.“
Parents used to have an incentive to get off drugs, says Russell. "If you’re a parent, you’ve tested positive, your caseworker said there’s a place you can go to get healed, to go through detox and recovery for heroin, and you can take your kid with you. . . . Now, if you’re not testing them, that conversation never happens.”
"Removing children from drug-abusing homes to foster care has positive long-term benefits for the kids," according to a Michigan study, writes Schaefer Riley. Some parents get clean. If they don't, children have more responsible caregivers.
Under the proposed bill, possession of small amounts of drugs would be a low-level misdemeanor, enabling police to prevent use on sidewalks and in parks. "Those arrested for small amounts would be referred by police to a peer support specialist to schedule an assessment or intervention," writes Rush. "If the person shows up to the meeting, they wouldn’t be charged."
Currently, police can issue a citation that will be "dismissed by calling a 24-hour hotline to complete an addiction screening within 45 days," she writes. However, there's no penalty for those who don't call and 99 percent don't bother, state auditors found.