Ethan Knight for District Attorney
A Trusted Leader for Safer Communities

Ethan On Issues Blog

The issues we face are complex and cannot be discussed adequately in 140 characters. So, I’ll be discussing issues on this blog as they relate to Multnomah County and the DA’s role.

Addressing Homelessness and Public Safety

The biggest challenge facing our community is homelessness. While some conflate criminal activity with homelessness, it is critical to recognize that homelessness is not a crime. People experiencing homelessness are victimized by crime in a variety of ways at increasingly high rates. And given their visibility in our community, they come into contact with law enforcement at a much higher rate than the general population. To be clear, I do not consider living on the streets a humane situation for those experiencing homelessness or our community as a whole.  But to address low-level crime, we must also address the needs of our homeless community.

As District Attorney, I will leverage my two decades of experience working with organizations across the metro area to better prioritize addressing addiction and mental health issues, moving people into housing and treatment, reducing crime on our streets, improving our livability, and keeping everyone in the community safe.

Expand Addiction Treatment and Mental Health Care

There are many reasons people end up experiencing homelessness. Addiction and serious mental illness are frequent contributors, and perhaps more importantly, once someone is living on the street, addiction and mental challenges are likely to worsen. And experiencing mental illness or addiction while homeless greatly increases the risk of being the victim of a crime.  

It is critical that we expand mental health services and addiction treatment in conjunction with the criminal justice system, something Multnomah County and the state legislature have failed to adequately do. Our next District Attorney must be willing to have the tough conversations to ensure we are doing more to provide services that will help prevent people from becoming homeless and help those experiencing homelessness get their lives back together. 

Supportive Housing

I am pleased that the leadership of Metro has put forward a robust supportive housing program to help those experiencing homelessness. Stable shelter is a foundation for getting people off the streets and will help reduce the exposure to the criminal justice system. I am glad we will have the opportunity to address this ongoing shortfall in local services on the May ballot.

Addressing Street Crime and Livability

For the past 20 years, it’s been my duty to uphold the constitution and the rule of law.  In that time, I have done my best to ensure that justice is delivered fairly and responsibly. I believe that when someone commits a crime, there should be a consequence. The challenge for many experiencing homelessness is that being charged with a low-level crime results in a quick tour through the justice system before returning to the streets. This revolving door justice doesn’t prevent someone from offending again and it doesn’t make our community safer. Rather than arresting someone, again and again, we need to look at the opportunity to intervene in different and more comprehensive ways to put an end to our revolving door justice system. We have several effective alternatives to incarceration including drug court and mental health court, which, when adequately funded, can work in conjunction with community prosecutors to help us resolve cases more quickly and directly connect people to services that help get people off the streets permanently.

Meg Olson