Portland Mayor Proposes Controversial Ban on Unsanctioned Encampments

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Ted Wheeler, Portland’s Mayor, announced Friday a five-point strategy to address the city’s homelessness crisis. This included a ban on unlicensed encampments in the city.

Wheeler said during a Friday press conference that “the magnitude and depth of the homeless crisis within our city is nothing less than a humanitarian disaster.” “We must move our homeless population, scattered and vulnerable, closer to the services they require.”

It includes creating 20,000 affordable housing units by 2033, expanding access to non-standard paid work, banning unsanctioned camping, creating diversion programs to encourage treatment of drug abuse and mental illness, and setting a city budget.

Wheeler stated that he plans to open three sites each year to accommodate up to 125 campers before winter begins. The funding is still not secured and the opening of the camping sites will take 18 months. The mayor didn’t specify the cost of the project.

“We have several locations in mind. Wheeler said that we are currently in talks with the people who have control of those sites. We will be available to discuss them once we have agreements in place.”

WFIN reports that Portland’s homeless population has increased by 50% to more than 3,000, which is a 50% increase over 2019. According to the outlet, 700 homeless people live in the city’s 146-square-mile area. According to KATU, the number one concern of Oregonians is homelessness.

Wheeler stated that fines and arrests are an option for those who refuse to move but are not the first resort.

“If someone just utterly refuses to go, then we will have to discuss criminal sanctions,” Wheeler said that the fourth resolution we have put in place does not aim to issue a lot of citations.

In exchange for participating in treatment for substance abuse or mental health, the mayor stated that the city would not impose sanctions on low-level offenses. Wheeler stated that the program’s ultimate goal is to make sure that those who are in need of treatment get it.

Advocates for the homeless expressed concern over the timeline and ban on unsanctioned camping.

Scott Kerman, Executive Director of Blanchet House in Portland, told KATU his biggest concern about the program was the ban.

Kerman stated that he had many questions about the ban’s enforcement. “I think Mayor Wheeler admitted that individuals who are not incentivized or compelled to choose services and shelter options will likely be arrested.”

Jo Ann Hardesty, Commissioner of the Commonwealth, also expressed concern at the proposal.

Hardesty stated that “no city plan for shelter expansion should include sending people to prison because they are living in extreme poverty or may have a mental or behavioral disorder.”

On Wednesday, the mayor’s plan will be presented to the City Council. The council declared a “state of emergency” on homelessness in 2015, which it has extended five more times since.