May 8, 2024 - News

Portland City Council to advance outdoor camping ban

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

Photo illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios. Photo: Nathan Howard/Getty Images

The Portland City Council is expected to adopt Mayor Ted Wheeler's proposed camping ban Wednesday, which would prohibit people from engaging in certain activities, many associated with being unhoused, on public property.

Why it matters: The move is the second attempt by Wheeler at enforcing restrictions on outdoor camping a Multnomah County Circuit Court judge blocked his first proposal last year.

Context: Wheeler has faced political backlash over trash and tents throughout his tenure and the latest policy marks a significant change in the city's approach to unsheltered people living on the streets.

What's inside: The new ban does not include any time or place restrictions on public camping like the previous ban, and allows camping if the person does not have the "means to acquire reasonable alternate shelter."

  • However, it restricts "activities" such as blocking pedestrian right-of-ways like sidewalks and business entrances, building fires, digging into the ground and selling bicycles or car parts.
  • Violators face a maximum $100 fine or up to seven days in jail — or both — though the district attorney is encouraged to divert offenders to housing or other emergency services instead of pursuing convictions.

Driving the news: If commissioners approve the ordinance, which they've signaled, at Wednesday's City Council meeting, the new restrictions would go into effect 30 days later.

The big picture: The U.S. Supreme Court is currently weighing whether a camping ban in Grants Pass that bans unhoused people from sleeping in parks or using sleeping materials to set up temporary living spaces, violates the Eighth Amendment's "cruel and unusual punishment" clause.

Reality check: The high court's decision could impact camping bans across the country.

  • If the court sides with Grants Pass, it would bolster laws like Portland's, or, if it sides with the unhoused plaintiffs, force cities to take less punitive measures to address homelessness.

What they're saying: Ed Johnson, director of litigation at Oregon Law Center, which filed the original lawsuit in 2018, told Axios last month: "If our clients prevail, cities will still be able to do everything except what Grants Pass wants to do, which is to make camping illegal everywhere at all times."

The other side: Cody Bowman, a spokesperson for Wheeler, said regardless of what decision is made in the Grants Pass v. Johnson case, the city's new camping ordinance aims to comply with state law.

  • House Bill 3115, passed by the Legislature in 2021, requires that restrictions on a person's ability to use a blanket or pillow to keep warm and dry while living outside must be "objectively reasonable."
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