Wheeler closes chamber to public after tense testimony on homelessness funding vote

Published: Nov. 17, 2022 at 6:24 PM PST
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PORTLAND Ore. (KPTV) - Public testimony during Thursday’s Portland City Council meeting became so heated the meeting had to move virtual mid-way through. The clash was over a $27 million funding proposal by Mayor Ted Wheeler to speed up a plan to ban camping in Portland and set up six sanctioned campsites.

The clash came from both housing advocates inside and outside City Hall criticizing the proposal.

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Molly Hogan with the Welcome Home Coalition spoke in opposition to the funding, saying the money to be spent on campsites could be better used.

“We’re more interested in long-term sustainable housing policies to ensure sustainable housing solutions for folks experiencing houselessness,” Hogan said.

The Welcome Home Coalition is a group of nonprofits that help those experiencing homelessness in the metro area.

“This fall budget adjustment is diverting $27 million of our public funds that could be spent on long-term housing solutions that we know works,” Hogan said.

Once council began on Thursday afternoon, Wheeler started by outlining his plan, which includes funding for 50 new city jobs to help those living in the sanctioned camp sites connect to resources.

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“This proposal includes funding for public land evaluation for affordable housing, an assessment of local regulations on housing cost and productions, as well as the capital, site preparation, construction costs, and one year of operations for three designated camping sites,” Wheeler said.

During public testimony, several people shouted at the city commissioners and mayor, and two people refused to leave the mic at the end of their time. After the second instance, Wheeler closed the chamber to the public and moved the session to completely virtual.

The main motion was set as an emergency ordinance which requires unanimous support. However, Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty indicated she would oppose.

“I am extremely alarmed with the development of private security being a part of this package,” said Hardesty. “I am concerned there is no transparency with what’s being built.”

Mayor Wheeler moved to remove the emergency clause, moving the item to second reading as amended.

A spokesperson for the mayor’s office says it will move to a vote in the coming weeks.

An amendment approved Thursday reallocates $15 million to services the mayor calls their “top priority,” moving them away from helping to pay off the city’s $4 billion capital maintenance backlog.

A spokesperson for Wheeler said more information about proposed locations for the sanctioned campsites will be announced in the near future.