Portland City Council Approves Daytime Camping Ban

Portland City Council Approves Daytime Camping Ban
Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler speaks to the media at City Hall in Portland, Ore., on Aug. 30, 2020. (Nathan Howard/Getty Images)
Scottie Barnes

The Portland City Council passed an ordinance on June 7 to ban camping during daylight hours amid struggles to address a homelessness that Mayor Ted Wheeler has called a “human catastrophe.“

Passed by a 3–1 vote, the new ordinance prohibits camping between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. in many public spaces throughout the city, including parks and within 250 feet of schools, child care centers, construction sites, environmental overlay zones, and established safe rest sites.

Homeless people will be able to camp in non-restricted areas overnight, but must dismantle their camps each morning and remove their belongings during the day.

Those who do not comply will receive a warning for the first two violations. A third violation could result in a $100 fine or 30 days in jail.

The ordinance will be implemented in phases with enforcement to begin in late July.

Wheeler said prosecutions will focus on giving “alternative sentences that connect people with resources.”

The city's enforcement will focus on "criminal behavior that has occurred at times in the city of Portland,” explained Commissioner Rene Gonzalez, who voted in favor of the ordinance. “It is not targeted toward those that are suffering from economic upheaval, that we need to continue to support on our streets."

He said that the city's homeless population includes "those that we need to continue to offer a helping hand to and then others that we need to drive out of the city.”

"If the city commits to actually carrying out enforcement, it will improve things on the streets of Portland," Gonzalez added.

Engaging the Crisis

Wheeler said the proposed restrictions are part of a larger plan to address the homelessness crisis, which he described on a city website dedicated to the issue.

“Currently there are hundreds of unsanctioned camps spread out across virtually every neighborhood of our city, over a massive 146-square-mile area,” he wrote.

In Multnomah County, where Portland is located, more than 5,200 people were homeless in 2022 according to federal point-in-time count data. That represents a 30 percent increase compared with 2019.

Wheeler said the new restrictions, along with efforts to increase shelter availability and services, could help revitalize Portland.

“My goal is to have enough shelter, housing, and treatment access available so that we can fully eliminate unsanctioned, unsheltered camping in Portland. We must continue to develop workable and compassionate means to connect people to the services they need to get off and stay off the streets,” Wheeler said about the proposed restriction.

To that end, the city council voted in November to create at least six large, designated campsites where homeless people will be allowed to camp. It has already set aside $27 million for these new shelter sites.

“The next few months will be focused on education and outreach—with an emphasis on ensuring the homelessness navigation outreach teams have clear and thorough information on this new ordinance," Wheeler said in a public statement after the June 7 council vote.

Portlanders Speak Up

Portland residents overwhelmingly supported efforts to address the city’s homelessness crisis.

Businesses and property owners applauded the ordinance, saying campsites are driving away customers and creating safety issues. Homeless advocacy groups said the new rules will further burden the homeless.

More than 100 people testified during the city council's first reading of the ordinance on May 31, with the vast majority of speakers opposing the ordinance.

That meeting was suspended multiple times due to disruptions both in and outside of the city council chambers.

“I am tired of cleaning up after a city that punishes rather than helps our unsheltered neighbors suffering from skyrocketing rents and housing prices,” Sandra Comstock, executive director of Hygiene 4 All, told the council. “Asking homeless Portlanders—60 percent of whom live with one or more disabilities—to carry their homes on their backs 12 hours a day, seven days a week, will heighten mental and physical distress.”

More than 500 written comments were also submitted, with much of that testimony reportedly in favor of the restrictions.

In a recent poll by the nonprofit People for Portland, more than 70 percent of the 500 likely Portland voters surveyed said they support the daytime camping ban proposal, and 83 percent think the rights of disabled residents should come before the rights of the homeless to camp on sidewalks.

When asked how those surveyed would describe homelessness in the Portland area, 75 percent said it was “a disaster.” Only 6 percent said the issue has turned a corner.

“Every day I talk to tenants, property owners, employees, families, and elders who no longer feel safe in our city,” Commissioner Dan Ryan said before voting to approve the measure. “Portland, you’ve been patient. I hear you. Your patience has run out.”

The decision on the camping ban comes less than a week after the city agreed to clear its sidewalks of sprawling homeless camps under terms of an Americans with Disability Act lawsuit settlement.

The ordinance will likely rely on the Portland Police Bureau to carry out the ban, raising questions about the city’s abilities to enforce the ordinance given the bureau’s current staffing shortage.

Portland has 1.2 police officers for every 1,000 people in the city and ranks 48th among the 50 largest cities in the United States for policing, according to a report by Willamette Week.

Scottie Barnes writes breaking news and investigative pieces for The Epoch Times from the Pacific Northwest. She has a background in researching the implications of public policy and emerging technologies on areas ranging from homeland security and national defense to forestry and urban planning.