PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — An Oregon mayor plans to ban camping on Portland streets and move unhoused people to campsites designated by the city, as the growing homelessness population has become the top concern for the vast majority of residents.
“The magnitude and the depth of the homeless crisis in our city is nothing short of a humanitarian catastrophe,” Mayor Ted Wheeler said Friday. “We need to move our scattered, vulnerable homeless population closer to the services that they need.”
The resolution would establish at least three large, designated outdoor camping sites, with the first opening within 18 months of securing funding. Wheeler didn’t specify when the funding would be confirmed or how much the measure would cost.
The designated camping sites would initially be able to serve up to 125 people and would provide access to services such as food, hygiene, litter collection and treatment for mental health and substance abuse, Wheeler said. The sites could eventually be scaled up to serve 500 people.
Oregon’s homelessness crisis has been fueled by a housing shortage, the coronavirus pandemic and high drug addiction rates.
More than 3,000 people are living without shelter in Portland, a 50% jump from 2019, and there are more than 700 encampments across the city, Wheeler said.
The resolution is one of several that Wheeler plans to introduce in City Council next week, aiming to address the city’s homelessness and affordable housing crises.
Under the measures, social workers would direct people camping on the street to the city’s designated camping sites. Police could issue citations if they refuse to leave, but the citations could be waived as part of a “services diversion program” that would allow people cited for low-level offenses, such as violating the camping ban, to receive mental health or substance abuse treatment instead of jail time.
“We want to steer people towards the help they need to get off and stay off the streets. That’s the goal,” Wheeler said.
Rush is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Follow Rush on Twitter.
Claire Rush, The Associated Press