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‘Human catastrophe’: Wheeler announces proposed changes to homeless camp code

By Michaela Bourgeois,


PORTLAND, Ore. ( KOIN ) – Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler announced proposed updates to the city’s homeless camping code on Thursday, including changes to time, place and manner restrictions.

The potential changes to the city code come after the 2021 adoption of House Bill 3115 , which requires cities to update camping ordinances by July 1, 2023 “to ensure they are objectively reasonable with respect to time, place, and manner restrictions on unsanctioned camping,” according to the mayor’s office.

One of the changes under Wheeler’s ordinance includes prohibiting camping between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. by “involuntary homeless,” which the ordinance defines as someone “having no means to acquire one’s own shelter and not otherwise having access to shelter or other alternative options for housing.” Under the ordinance, campers must dismantle and remove camps until 8 p.m.

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Additionally, Wheeler’s plan would ban camping within 250 feet from schools, Safe Rest Villages or other sanctioned camping sites along with parks, docks, construction zones and environmental overlay zones.

The ordinance would also ban camps from blocking access to private property or businesses. Campers are also not allowed to use gas heaters or maintain fires, set up permanent structures, accumulate garbage or other hazardous materials, or sell multiple bikes, cars or other parts.

Campers would also be banned from having belongings taking up more than 10 square feet outside of a tent or portable shelter.

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Wheeler said he will bring the changes to City Council on May 31. If approved by City Council, Wheeler says the ordinance will be phased in starting July 1, 2023.

“My goal is to have enough shelter, housing, and treatment access available so that we can fully eliminate unsanctioned, unsheltered camping in Portland. We must continue to develop workable, and compassionate means to connect people to the services they need to get off and stay off the streets. These changes are critical to the City’s compliance with state law and vital to our community’s ability to return to the vibrant place we all love,” Wheeler said in a statement.

The ordinance requires written warnings before any penalty and that two documented warnings can lead to criminal penalties. After two prior warnings for not following the ordinance, campers can get a fine of up to $100 and/or imprisonment for up to 30 days.

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“I will support any efforts to create alternatives to criminal sanctions for violations. Whether it’s acceptance of referrals, completion of community service or restorative justice participation, I’m fully behind pathways out of the system for those who want help,” Wheeler said in a recorded video statement — in which the mayor said the ordinance has approval from Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt.

Wheeler added, “There are currently hundreds of unsanctioned, sometimes dangerous and often squalid, homeless camps across the 146 square miles of Portland. These homeless camps represent nothing short of a humanitarian catastrophe.”

The mayor said he will continue to bolster existing programs such as shelters, Safe Rest Villages and the city’s temporary alternative shelters along with funding the Joint Office of Homeless Services.

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