I’ve written a lot of posts about the problem of homelessness in Portland over the years. Just this year there have been multiple reports about people planning to leave the area for good because of crime and homelessness. There have been specific reports about dangerous homeless people and persistent homeless thieves who never seem to get taken off the streets no matter what they do.
In September and ADA lawsuit was filed against the city by residents who say they can’t navigate safely because of all the tents taking up the sidewalks. Earlier this month we learned that fully half of all fires the Portland Fire Department responds to, often six a day, take place in one of the city’s estimated 700 homeless camps.
All of this has been going on for years but finally last month Mayor Ted Wheeler announced a new plan to deal with the city’s homeless camps which he described as a “vortex of misery.”
“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 plan has several moving parts but the big idea is that Portland would ban all unsanctioned camps and instead replace them with a series of city run sites that would each hold up to 250 residents. These new sites would provide food, bathrooms, trash pick up and on-site security. Yesterday the city council met to discuss paying for the plan but the discussion did not go smoothly.
Mayor Ted Wheeler has proposed allocating $27 million of the city’s budget to build a network of large, outdoor sites where homeless people would be allowed to camp. A camping ban would phase in once six designated camping areas have been built over 18 months…
Public testimony in opposition to the measure and the money that will fund it grew so heated during Thursday’s meeting that City Council members had to leave the chambers and conduct the rest of the meeting online. Members of the public were moved to another room in City Hall after some who opposed the plan interrupted council members and had their microphones cut after refusing to abide by time limits in emotionally charged testimony…
Another resident, Shannon Kearns, said the plan amounted to “putting money into internment camps under the guise of support for our most marginalized community members.”
Other opponents called the new sites “concentration camps.”
Opponents see the plan as a thinly veiled way of criminalizing homelessness, while supporters see it as the best way to connect people experiencing homelessness with the social services they need.
“Building concentration camps for unhoused people is a counter-productive waste of taxpayer money,” said Fran Michele during public testimony. “It is not an evidence-based approach to solving the housing crisis.”
Naturally, Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty voted against it.
She said she was particularly alarmed about the last-minute addition of hiring private security.
“I am concerned that there is no transparency into what’s being built, and very concerned there is no public community oversight,” Hardesty said. “I am very concerned that the people who are the most vulnerable in our community will be the ones most harmed by this policy.”
So far the opposition seems to be coming from far left homeless activists. But I suspect the real opposition to the plan will come once the city announces where they plan to build these new sites. So far the city hasn’t said anything about that. Once they do you can bet there are going to be a lot of concerned neighbors who aren’t happy about it.
Homeless people who live on the street aren’t stealing to get food. They are primarily stealing to get money for drugs. Moving them all into a big camps site isn’t going to fix that. These sites are going to be a burden on whatever neighborhood they land in.
I will say this for Mayor Wheeler’s plan. If he can clear out the tent camps on the city’s sidewalks and parks that will be popular. But he’s got a long way to go yet to make this work.