Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler proposes ban on homeless camps: ‘Vortex of misery’
Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler has announced plans to ban unsanctioned homeless encampments in the crime-riddled city – calling the crisis “a vortex of misery for all involved.”
“The magnitude and the depth of the homeless crisis in our city is nothing short of a humanitarian catastrophe,” Wheeler said Friday. “We need to move our scattered, vulnerable homeless population closer to the services that they need.”
“Collectively, this is a vortex of misery for all involved,” he continued.
The mayor’s resolution calls for moving the homeless to at least three designated campsites — with the first opening within 18 months of securing funding.
He didn’t specify when the funding would be confirmed or how much the measure would cost.
Under the plan, the camping sites would initially be able to serve up to 125 people and provide access to services such as food, hygiene, litter collection and treatment for mental health and substance abuse.
The designated sites could eventually serve 500 people, Wheeler said.
More than 3,000 people have no shelter in Portland, a 50% spike from 2019, and there are more than 700 encampments in the city, WFIN reported.
Under Wheeler’s proposed measures, social workers would direct the homeless to the city’s designated camping sites. Police could arrest or cite them if they refuse to go, Wheeler said.
But the citations could be waived as part of a “services diversion program” that would allow those who receive summonses for low-level offenses, such as violating the camping ban, to get mental health or substance abuse treatment.
Wheeler also called for the next governor to implement an “immediate enactment of a statewide emergency order” on the homeless problem, which has been a critical issue in the close race between Republican Christine Drazan, Democrat Tina Kotek and unaffiliated candidate Betsy Johnson, the news outlet reported.
Drazan, who is trying to end four decades of Democratic leadership in Oregon, has said that, if elected, she would declare a state of emergency.
“We have among the highest numbers for homelessness and addiction with the lowest level of access to recovery services,” she has told Fox News Digital.
Local officials note that homelessness is a major problem in Portland dating back years and only got worse since 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic, a housing shortage and high drug addiction rates have contributed to the crisis.
Last month, disabled residents claimed in a federal class-action lawsuit that the city is violating the Americans with Disabilities Act because they can’t traverse the city amid the widespread homeless encampments obstructing the sidewalks.
The plaintiffs want the city to clear sidewalks of tents and garbage and “construct, purchase, or otherwise provide for emergency shelters in which to house the unsheltered persons” who may be affected.
“The entire class of persons with disabilities are regularly deprived of the benefits of services of the city of Portland,” said John DiLorenzo, a lawyer representing the group.
Meanwhile, a recent survey commissioned by Wheeler found that nearly half (48%) of 500 residents who responded felt unsafe walking alone at night in their own neighborhood. Of those who felt unsafe, 78% reported they were afraid of being physically assaulted.
Portland has seen a sharper increase in violent crime than many other major cities.
Homicides in the city increased 83% from 2019 to 2020, while nationally, killings increased by an average of about 30%. There were 90 homicides in the city last year, breaking the city’s previous record of 66 in 1987, Oregon Public Broadcasting reported.
Scott Kerman, executive director of Blanchet House, a Portland nonprofit that provides social services for the homeless, said Wheeler’s new plan “has some positive elements” but that “there remain a lot of unanswered questions and unknown details,” particularly regarding the enforcement provision.
Some homeless people are averse to living in large group environments due to previous negative experiences, he said.
“We’re serving people that even in the most extreme winter and summer weather conditions will not seek out emergency shelter because they have such PTSD and anxiety about congregate shelter,” Kerman told The Associated Press.
“They have felt unsafe in those environments. They may have even been victimized in those environments,” he added.
The City Council declared a state of emergency on homelessness in 2015 and has extended it five times since then.
With Post wires