Portland-area homeless services groups brace for new camping ban

Portland City Council is set to vote on a new ordinance Wednesday that makes specific restrictions on unsanctioned camping.
Published: May. 30, 2023 at 6:23 PM PDT
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PORTLAND, Ore. (KPTV)- Portland City Council is set to vote on a new ordinance Wednesday that makes specific restrictions on unsanctioned camping.

According to Mayor Ted Wheeler, the city’s ordinance would be phased in starting on July 1. All camping would be banned between 8:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. in virtually every public space, including sidewalks, parks, and near roads with frequent car accidents.

The crisis is clearly visible on the sidewalks next to Old Town’s  Blanchet House, a local nonprofit that serves meals and has other day-use services available to those experiencing homelessness.

Director Scott Kerman expects larger crowds once the ban goes into effect because of people who may have nowhere to go during the day. In response to the ban, Kerman hopes the city can step in and help Blanchet House out and other day-use centers.

“We do expect there to be a lot of downstream effects as a result of this ordinance,” said Kerman.  “We could use financial assistance. Just keeping up with the day-to-day crisis and everything else that has happened in our community since Spring 2020 has really increased all of our expenses. ”The city says unlawful campers would be given multiple warnings to move, and then could be fined $100 fine or arrested.

Sisters of the Road is another local homeless services group, and is planning to voice their opposition to the camping ban ahead of the city council vote. One program manager says the ban will do more harm than good. ”Criminalizing people who are experiencing homelessness when there are no viable alternatives not only creates a lot of social stresses, but economic stresses,” said Lauren Armony. When the new ordinance was revealed last week, Mayor Ted Wheeler stressed that he is open to other options that do not  involve harsh penalties for people who refuse the camping ban.

“I will support any efforts to create alternatives to criminal sanctions for violations, whether its acceptance of service referrals, completion of community service, or restorative justice participation,” said Wheeler. “I’m fully behind creating pathways out of the system for those who want help.”For groups like Sisters of the Road, they believe there are better solutions than penalizing those who are camping in public areas, such as getting people the care and resources they need immediately, and streamlining a path to housing. ”Create the measure of stability that they can have so that they have case workers who can meet them where they’re at and directly house them from that space,”  said Armony.

City Council is expected to vote on the ordinance during the afternoon session on Wednesday, May 31.