Portland, Oregon, approves $27M for new homeless camps

Nov 30, 2022, 1:22 PM | Updated: 1:48 pm
FILE - Homeless camps are seen in a vacant parking lot in Portland, Ore., Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2020. Ci...

FILE - Homeless camps are seen in a vacant parking lot in Portland, Ore., Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2020. City Council members in Portland have voted to allocate $27 million of the city's budget to build a network of designated camping areas for homeless people. (AP Photo/Craig Mitchelldyer, File)

(AP Photo/Craig Mitchelldyer, File)

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — City Council members in Portland, Oregon, have voted to allocate $27 million of the city’s budget to build a network of designated camping areas for homeless people, approving a fiercely disputed budget measure as the city tries to address its homelessness crisis.

The money will help finance a measure passed by the City Council earlier this month that banned street camping and approved the creation of six outdoor sites where homeless people will be allowed to camp. Under the measure, a ban on street camping will phase in over the next year and a half as the sites are completed.

Before Wednesday’s vote, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler acknowledged the measure was controversial but that he nonetheless believes in it “very, very deeply.” Wheeler and other supporters of the measure contend it will make streets safer and connect homeless people with social services.

“We must end self-directed, unsanctioned camping in the city of Portland,” he said. “We deal with mental health issues. We deal with substance abuse issues. We deal with human feces. We deal with naked people running down the street, people who are unable to even acknowledge who or where they are, because their afflictions are that serious. It is beneath us as a moral and ethical society to have that happening in our community. And therefore we need to do something differently.”

The $27 million will help launch the first three campsites, with nearly half going toward their operational costs for the remainder of the fiscal year. About $4 million of it will be directed to the sites’ preparation and construction.

Wednesday’s measure amended the city’s budget for the current fiscal year to include the new projections.

Public opposition to the measure and the money that will fund it has been heated, with critics saying it will criminalize homelessness and fail to address its root causes.

The initial vote on the budget measure was postponed after a raucous City Council meeting during which some who opposed the plan interrupted council members and had their microphones cut after refusing to abide by time limits in emotionally charged testimony. The commotion prompted members to leave the chambers and conduct the rest of the meeting online.

During that meeting, resident Shannon Kearns said in testimony that the plan amounted to “putting money into internment camps under the guise of support for our most marginalized community members.”

The six designated campsites will initially serve up to 150 people, with 24-hour management and access to services such as food, hygiene, litter collection and treatment for mental health and substance abuse.

The location of the sites and the exact details of how they will work have yet to be confirmed, but Wheeler’s office has unveiled a potential roadmap in recent Zoom calls with community stakeholders.

So far, the city has envisioned camps that would not allow walk-ins; people would have to be referred by outreach workers. Alcohol and drugs would be banned in common areas. Sites would only have one entrance and exit, and weapons checks would be conducted there.

Service providers running the sites would be responsible for security inside and within a 1,000-foot perimeter of the camps. But the budget allocates $750,000 to help neighborhood groups hire private security for areas around the first three sites.

The location and security of the sites is already shaping up to be a contentious issue. Some neighborhoods, including those that are lower-income and those already struggling to address homeless encampments, are worried the sites won’t be spaced out equitably across the city.

A group of residents and property owners from downtown, where many homeless services are located, testified before Wednesday’s vote. One of them, Kat Ulrich, shared pictures of the aftermath of a violent confrontation she and her husband had with a homeless person experiencing a mental health crisis.

“He punched me in the face. I went down, came up with blood on my hands and my face, and my nose was broken. Him and my husband were rolling on the ground,” she said. “Somebody eventually came out with some mace and sprayed the man, and he ran off.”

Homeless advocates say that more affordable housing is needed to truly tackle the issue. While mental health treatment services are essential, they point out that not all homeless people have mental health or substance abuse issues.

As the sites are built and the street camping ban phases in, outreach workers will be tasked with directing people living on the street to the designated camping areas. Those who refuse to leave their encampment 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.

To develop the diversion program, the new budget transfers $250,000 from the police bureau to the Street Services Coordination Center, which provides homeless outreach.

Mayor Wheeler has previously said he thinks the $27 million would cover about half the costs of creating the sanctioned campsites. The mayor’s office has urged the state to declare a homelessness emergency, and to support a request from the Oregon Mayor’s Association for a budget package totaling $123 million during the next legislative session, which starts in January. The package would provide direct allocations to cities for homelessness services.

Denver 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.

___

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.

AP

Chinese spy balloon flies above in Charlotte NC, United States on February 04, 2023. The Pentagon a...
Associated Press

US downs suspected Chinese spy balloon off the Carolina coast

The United States on Saturday downed a suspected Chinese spy balloon off the Carolina coast after it traversed sensitive military sites.
16 hours ago
A man works at an avocado orchard in Santa Ana Zirosto, Michoacan state, Mexico, Thursday, Jan. 26,...
Associated Press

Route to Super Bowl dangerous for Mexico’s avocado haulers

SANTA ANA ZIROSTO, Mexico (AP) — It is a long and sometimes dangerous journey for truckers transporting the avocados destined for guacamole on tables and tailgates in the United States during the Super Bowl. It starts in villages like Santa Ana Zirosto, high in the misty, pine-clad mountains of the western Mexico state of Michoacan. […]
16 hours ago
Associated Press

Iraqi currency crash halts after meeting with U.S. official

BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraq’s currency ended its nosedive after a meeting between the Iraqi Central Bank head and a top U.S. Treasury official. Under Secretary of the Treasury for terrorism and financial intelligence Brian E. Nelson said in a statement Saturday that he had met with Central Bank of Iraq Governor Ali al-Allaq in Istanbul […]
16 hours ago
Associated Press

Gas prices dip in NJ, around nation as cold weather returns

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — Gas prices dipped in New Jersey and around the country at large as cold weather descended on parts of the nation following an unusually warm January. AAA Mid-Atlantic says the average price of a gallon of regular gas in New Jersey on Friday was $3.42, down three cents from last week. […]
16 hours ago
Associated Press

Kansas police responding to overdose call shoot, kill man

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — Police in Kansas say an officer shot and killed an armed man after he fled from the scene of an opioid overdose on a bicycle. The Kansas City, Kansas Police Department said in a news release that officers spotted the man pedaling away Friday night from a home where they […]
16 hours ago
FILE - A Tesla Model Y Long Range is displayed on Feb. 24, 2021, at the Tesla Gallery in Troy, Mich...
Associated Press

Tesla hikes price of Model Y after US alters tax credit rule

DETROIT (AP) — Tesla has raised prices on its Model Y in the U.S., apparently due to rising demand and changes in U.S. government rules that make more versions of the small SUV eligible for tax credits. The Austin, Texas, electric vehicle company bumped up the price of the Model Y Long Range version by […]
16 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

(Pexels Photo)...

Sports gambling can be fun for adults, but it’s a dangerous game for children

While adults may find that sports gambling is a way to enhance the experience with more than just fandom on the line, it can be a dangerous proposition if children get involved in the activity.
(Desert Institute for Spine Care photo)...
DESERT INSTITUTE FOR SPINE CARE

Why DISC is world renowned for back and neck pain treatments

Fifty percent of Americans and 90% of people at least 50 years old have some level of degenerative disc disease.
...
Children’s Cancer Network

Children’s Cancer Network celebrates cancer-fighting superheroes, raises funds during September’s Childhood Cancer Awareness Month

Jace Hyduchak was like most other kids in his kindergarten class: He loved to play basketball, dress up like his favorite superheroes and jump as high as his pint-sized body would take him on his backyard trampoline.
Portland, Oregon, approves $27M for new homeless camps