Cities seek to control camping amid growing homeless crisis

Nov 3, 2022, 12:05 AM | Updated: 7:08 pm
Members of the Leaven Community Land & Housing Coalition attend a Portland City Council Meeting on ...

Members of the Leaven Community Land & Housing Coalition attend a Portland City Council Meeting on Thursday, Nov. 3, 2022, in Portland, Ore., to oppose a resolution that would ban street camping and create designated areas for homeless camping. The resolution has sparked fierce debate in the city. (AP Photo/Claire Rush)

(AP Photo/Claire Rush)

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — The tents proliferating on sidewalks in downtown and residential neighborhoods across Portland, Oregon, are fueling a debate that’s playing out in cities nationwide as the homelessness crisis in the U.S. explodes: Should camping be banned anywhere except in sanctioned sites?

Republican-led states including Texas and Missouri have passed laws in the past couple years prohibiting street camping while diverting money from affordable housing projects to short-term shelter solutions.

Now, after decades of struggling to tackle homelessness, some progressive West Coast cities are considering similar plans. Portland City Council members voted Thursday to create at least three large, designated campsites and ban the rest of the roughly 700 encampments currently scattered across the city. More than 3,000 people are living without shelter in Portland, a 50% jump from 2019, according to the proposal.

“People on the streets deserve our compassion. They need our understanding, and many of them need our help to get off and stay off the streets,” Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler said after the vote. “It is my personal view that these resolutions take an important step forward for the city of Portland to be able to do just that.”

Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty was the sole council member that voted against the resolution.

“I hear and share the anxiety and frustration community members feel around the city about the houseless crisis. And I’m committed to continue to work to solve the problem,” she said. “But saying we will magically wave a wand in 18 months and there will be no more street camping is not real.”

Opponents have said the camping restrictions effectively criminalize homelessness and fail to address its root causes.

“As visible homelessness has increased, there is also an increase in pressure from the public and from others for elected officials and other folks in positions of authority to address that issue,” said Ann Oliva, CEO of the National Alliance to End Homelessness. “What’s starting to happen is that the way to immediately address an issue that is at its core an affordable housing problem is to try and remove people from public view.”

Portland’s soaring homelessness has become a top concern for the vast majority of residents and has prompted legal action. A group of people with disabilities has sued the city over tents blocking sidewalks and making them inaccessible.

Portland’s proposal would establish at least three designated sites where camping would be allowed, with an initial capacity to serve about 150 people each. They would have 24-hour management and provide access to services such as food, hygiene, litter collection and treatment for mental health and substance abuse.

Outreach workers would direct people living on the street to the designated camping sites. Those who refuse could be cited, but the citations could be waived if the person takes part in a diversion program that would require mental health or substance abuse treatment in lieu of jail time.

Dozens of people showed up Thursday to provide comment to the City Council in a heated meeting.

Randy Humphreys said he was homeless for 11 years and that he waited five years for an opening in an affordable housing complex. Housed for the past year, he came to the meeting to oppose the measure and said large, sanctioned campsites could be dangerous.

“There are gonna be fights. There could be shootings. There could be disasters waiting to happen if you stick 500 people in one area,” he said. “It’s unethical.”

But Monica Cory, who described her neighborhood as being taken over by tents, broken down RVs, litter and drugs, said she was “enthusiastic” about the measure.

“Anyone in recovery will tell you that you have to hit rock bottom before you can get better. But there is no rock bottom in my neighborhood, where people can live wherever they want without consequences or behavioral expectations,” she said.

Denver, Colorado, and Austin, Texas, have also passed ordinances both banning public camping and allowing sanctioned campsites. Denver has opened several “safe outdoor spaces” since 2020 where tents, food and other services are provided. In Austin, the Esperanza community is a sanctioned encampment that serves about 150 people and is currently constructing 200 individual shelter units.

The Cicero Institute, which wrote the model legislation that inspired many of the recent camping ban policies, says creating specific areas where camping is permitted can be a faster solution for cities compared to building affordable housing.

“One of the biggest problems that sanctioned camping is trying to address is just the unbelievable difficulty of getting more shovels in the ground to get shelter or other sorts or services available for the homeless,” said Judge Glock, the group’s senior director of policy and research.

“The answer can’t possibly be for these cities, wait two or three decades and we’re going to build enough permanent housing. In the meantime, we’re going to see tens of thousands of people die out on the streets,” Glock said.

But many homeless advocates say that a “housing first” approach is the only way to address the underlying factors that cause homelessness.

“Rounding people up with nowhere else to go is not only cruel and impractical, but forcing them into giant camps cannot possibly be a culturally competent or equitable situation,” Mark Guzman, founder of the food nonprofit MealsonUsPDX, said at a contentious Portland City Council meeting last week.

“If you truly want to end homelessness, the only way forward is with housing first,” said Guzman, who said he previously experienced homelessness himself. “People need love, compassion and resources to escape a situation of homelessness.”


Claire 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 Claire on Twitter.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


A Palestinian flag and a poster showing Ammar Adili, 22, who was shot and killed by an Israeli bord...
Associated Press

Palestinians say killing caught on video was unjustified

HAWARA, West Bank (AP) — A makeshift sidewalk memorial with a Palestinian flag and a mourning notice paid tribute Saturday to a 22-year-old Palestinian whose death at the hands of an Israeli border police officer — four pistol shots from close range — was captured on widely shared amateur video. A day after the shooting […]
22 hours ago
FILE - A flu vaccine is readied at the L.A. Care and Blue Shield of California Promise Health Plans...
Associated Press

Flu season worsens as 44 states report high activity

NEW YORK (AP) — The U.S. flu season keeps getting worse. Health officials said Friday that 7.5% of outpatient medical visits last week were due to flu-like illnesses. That’s as high as the peak of the 2017-18 flu season and higher than any season since. The annual winter flu season usually doesn’t get going until […]
22 hours ago
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin introduces the B-21 Raider stealth at Northrop Grumman Friday, De...
Associated Press

Keep COVID military vaccine mandate, defense chief says

ABOARD A U.S. MILITARY AIRCRAFT (AP) — Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said he wants to keep the military’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate in place to protect the health of the troops, as Republican governors and lawmakers press to rescind it. This past week more than 20 Republican governors sent a letter to President Joe Biden asking […]
22 hours ago
Associated Press

Family says coyote attacked toddler outside LA home

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A coyote ambushed and injured a 2-year old girl outside her Los Angeles home in a daytime attack before her father chased the animal off, her family said. Home security video obtained by KTLA-TV shows the animal grab and drag the toddler across her lawn and sidewalk, just seconds after her […]
22 hours ago
FILE -  Rep. Jim Kolbe, R-Ariz, speaks during a press conference at the American University of Beir...
Associated Press

Longtime Arizona GOP Rep. Jim Kolbe dies at 80

PHOENIX (AP) — Jim Kolbe, a Republican congressman who represented a heavily Democratic region of Arizona for more than two decades and was a proponent of gay rights, has died. He was 80. Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey said in a statement that Kolbe died Saturday. Ducey ordered flags lowered until sunset Sunday. Kolbe served in […]
22 hours ago
Associated Press

Fan buying famed ‘Goonies’ house in Oregon, listed for $1.7M

ASTORIA, Ore. (AP) — The listing agent for the Victorian home featured in the “The Goonies” film in Astoria, Oregon, said this week the likely new owner is a fan of the classic coming-of-age movie about friendships and treasure hunting, and he promises to preserve and protect the landmark. The 1896 home with sweeping views […]
22 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Quantum Fiber

Stream 4K and more with powerful, high-speed fiber internet

Picking which streaming services to subscribe to are difficult choices, and there is no room for internet that cannot handle increased demands.
Quantum Fiber

How high-speed fiber internet can improve everyday life

Quantum Fiber supplies unlimited data with speeds up to 940 mbps, enough to share 4K videos with coworkers 20 times faster than a cable.
Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Ways to prevent clogged drains and what to do if you’re too late

While there are a variety of ways to prevent clogged drains, it's equally as important to know what to do when you're already too late.
Cities seek to control camping amid growing homeless crisis