‘No reason for ordinance’ to ban Portland homeless camping
By Tim SteeleBrandon Thompson,2023-05-30
PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Portland’s homeless problem is crystallized with a few statistics.
The most recent Point In Time Count found 6,287 people homeless in Multnomah County. 3,944 of them live without shelter. Additionally, the Joint Office of Homeless Services says there are 1,794 shelter beds in the system. Data from March found 1,488 people using shelter — and that’s 91.9% capacity in the system.Mayor Wheeler’s camping ban proposal could have ‘huge impact’
On Wednesday, the Portland City Council will vote on a law to ban camping during the daytime and in certain places, like parks and schools. The change would give people living on the streets 3 strikes before they could be fined or sent to jail. If approved, it could go into effect starting July 1.
The ordinance proposed in Portland stems from a Supreme Court ruling that became the basis for an Oregon state law in 2021. The law says a city can’t sweep people from camping without a place for them to go.
Wheeler’s office said the priority is connecting people with services. If passed, outreach workers will accompany law enforcement in enforcing the ban. The worker will offer a ride to shelter. If they refuse, they get the first of 3 strikes before jail or fines are considered.
Legal experts who spoke with KOIN 6 News admonished the city’s plan, saying the city is finding loopholes in the law rather than solutions for people who are homeless.
“That’s supposed to be a starting point, a minimum red line that’s not to be crossed by the Constitution,” said Eric Tars, the legal director for the National Homelessness Law Center . “But it’s not the final destination.”
Tars sees the city’s plan as a loophole for criminalizing homelessness.
“If they want to put their resources into outreach workers and make connections, that’s fantastic,” he said. “That would be best practice. But there is no reason for an ordinance to do that.”
During a week earlier in May, the city found 42 people who wanted shelter. 11 of them stayed one night. Of the 2,236 people referred to shelter in the past year, 835 stayed in shelter.
The Northwest Pilot Project , which helps homeless seniors find housing, hopes city officials are genuine about prioritizing outreach. They believe this is a chance for the city to talk with shelter providers about what they need to make sure people have some sort of place to go.
Executive Director Laura Golino de Lovato told KOIN 6 News the city needs to look at expanding daytime shelters and daytime storage for people’s things during the hours of 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. when camping would be banned on streets. That’s something Mayor Ted Wheeler’s office said they’ll consider, but nothing is concrete.
“There’s that opportunity there to not make it about the ‘no, no, no,'” Golina de Lovato said, “but add some incentives for people or pathways for people who are camping.”
Golina de Lovato said if the city is serious about shelter, they need to work with operators to handle the thousands of people the facilities currently don’t have space for.
“Sit down with them and say, ‘What do you need to build the capacity to accept the inflow of people who are going to be asked to move out for a day?'” she said.
The Joint Office says the 2023-24 budget, if approved, provides money for 2,580 beds. Both Portland City Council and Multnomah County Commissioners have yet to vote on their respective budgets that would fund the increase in shelter capacity.
Outside of the parks, schools and other spots in the guidelines, there are areas of the city where camping can take place during the day. The City of Portland has floated the idea of providing a map to those areas, but, again, no decision has been made.Copyright 2023 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.