Portland officials are mulling a proposal to ban daytime homeless camps in most public spaces as the West Coast city struggles to get a handle on the ballooning number of people living on the streets.
Homeless people would need to clear their camps every morning by 8 a.m., picking up all their belongings and trash before they could settle down again at 8 p.m., according to the proposal.
The ban would extend to city parks, near schools, day cares, construction sites and some sidewalks, according to the plan brought forward by Mayor Ted Wheeler.
“There are currently hundreds of unsanctioned, sometimes dangerous and often squalid homeless camps across all 146 square miles of the city of Portland,” Wheeler said at a Wednesday City Council meeting.
“These homeless camps … represent nothing short of a humanitarian catastrophe.”
Violators of the law, if enacted, would get two warnings. But after three violations, people could be fined up to $100 or get tossed in jail for as much as 30 days.
The proposal, which would also aim to get the city in compliance with a new state law, was supported by business and property owners.
They argued during the City Council meeting that some customers and workers don’t feel safe shopping or going to work as they circumvent the encampments.
The meeting also brought out throngs of opponents of the proposal with the executive director of a homeless non-profit lambasting the legislation.
“Asking homeless Portlanders … to carry their homes on their backs for 12 hours a day, seven days a week, will heighten mental and physical distress, hitting houseless and front-line workers like a punch to the gut,” said Sandra Comstock, of Hygiene4All.
Dozens of protesters rallied outside City Hall before the meeting and jeered at speakers inside the building that were in support of the ban. Wheeler at one point threatened to move the meeting online if things didn’t settle down.
Homelessness spiked in Portland more than 30% between 2019 and 2022, according to federal data.
A vote on the measure is expected next week.
Wheeler said he wants to build enough shelter and housing to eliminate prohibited camping in the city. In November, City Council members approved six large, designated campsites for homeless people. In turn, the city would go forward with a gradual ban on street camping altogether as the sites become operational.
Portland already doesn’t allow camping on city property 24 hours a day, but it mostly isn’t enforced and could violate a state law that takes effect July 1. The state law, part of a 2018 court ruling, stops local governments from arresting people for sleeping outside when there isn’t enough shelter available.
The law does have “objectively reasonable” limits on where, when and how camp sites can be set up.
The City Council also voted Wednesday to agree to a settlement in a federal lawsuit that accused Portland of violating the rights of people with disabilities because the homeless encampments made it tough for people in wheelchairs, walkers and canes to move around the city.
Part of the settlement requires the city to remove tents that block sidewalks and clear about 500 sidewalk-blocking encampments every year for the next five years.
With Post wires