Apr 8, 2024 - News

Portland mayor proposes new outdoor camping ban

Photo illustration of Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler with lines radiating from him.

Photo illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios; Photo: Anthony Pidgeon/Redferns via Getty Images

After a legal challenge posed a monthslong delay in enforcing his first outdoor camping ban, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler is proposing another that does not include any time or place restrictions on public camping.

Why it matters: After years of pursuing different tactics to end homelessness, the city is still struggling to find adequate solutions for a problem that is only getting worse.

By the numbers: According to a Portland State University analysis of the federal point-in-time homeless count, 6,300 people in Multnomah County were experiencing homelessness in 2023, a 29% increase from the previous year.

  • The report also found there were only 3,150 shelter beds in the county — a shortfall of nearly 50%.

Catch up fast: The previous ban, approved by commissioners back in June, would've forbid all camping on city property between 8am and 8pm, plus overnight camping near schools, shelters and certain busy streets, on docks or in parks, among other restrictions.

  • Plus, no fires or gas heaters would've been allowed at campsites, and after two warnings, police could have fined or arrested a person for violating the policy, with up to 30 days in jail.

Flashback: In November — when the original ban was supposed to go into effect — a Multnomah County Circuit Court judge blocked enforcement, siding with plaintiffs who argued the restrictions would have unconstitutionally punished people for doing ordinary activities on the street when they had nowhere else to go.

  • Robert Taylor of the City Attorney's Office said in a statement that he believes the new proposed regulations "would survive a legal challenge."

The latest: The new proposed ordinance would keep intact the ban on activities campers are allowed to do on public property — for example, not start a fire, use gas heaters, dig into the ground, etc.

  • It would also ban camping if a person recklessly obstructs a pedestrian right-of-way or access to a private business, and if a person rejects reasonable access to available shelter.
  • Repeat violators would face up to a $100 fine and seven days in jail.

What they're saying: Wheeler told OPB the new plan isn't intended to "lead with law enforcement," but to reduce the number of unsanctioned camps and provide officials with "some reasonable tools for people who just don't want to work with us."

  • Skyler Brocker-Knapp, a policy advisor to Wheeler, told The Oregonian enforcement would only happen after multiple outreach and diversion attempts.

What's next: City Council will hear and discuss the proposal during its April 18 meeting, with a vote expected the following week. If approved, the new restrictions would go into effect in 30 days.

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