Portland city council votes to ban homeless camps, approve new housing project: report

Portland’s city council last night voted to ban unsanctioned homeless camps on streets in a move that some critics claim effectively criminalizes homelessness. 

The plan, put forward by Portland’s Mayor Ted Wheeler and Commissioner Dan Ryan, limits homeless camps to six large approved sites and approved a 20,000-unit housing plan. Only one council member did not support all measures put forward, OPB reported. 

Wheeler last month said the “magnitude and depth of the homelessness crisis in our city is nothing short of a humanitarian catastrophe” that had transformed into “a vortex of misery for all involved.” 

Portland’s homeless population has risen by 50% from 2,037 homeless people in 2019 to more than 3,000 this year, resulting in more than 700 encampments spread out over 146 square miles. The city has worked for over a year to tackle the problem after initially banning homeless camps in forest areas following a series of wildfires in 2021. 

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Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, the single holdout on some measures in the new proposal, called the measure to ban the camps “cruel and inhumane” and criticized the proposals for a lack of clarity on how authorities could actually enforce them. 

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler speaks to the media at City Hall on August 30, 2020, in Portland, Oregon. Wheeler put forward a proposal for a few city-sanctioned homeless camps in order to tackle the more than 700 camps that have appeared across the city. 
(Nathan Howard/Getty Images)

“I’ve had numerous people tell me it would be the politically smart thing to do to vote yes on this resolution, and frankly it would be easy for me to do that,” Hardesty said. 

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“But saying we will magically wave a wand in 18 months and there will be no more street camping is not real,” she continued. “These resolutions contain no code changes, identify no funding or land, and have no agreements between jurisdictional partners.” 

Tents line the sidewalk on SW Clay St in Portland, Oregon, on Dec. 9, 2020. City council members in Portland, Oregon, are set to vote on a resolution that would ban homeless street camping and move residents to specific, sanctioned camps.

Tents line the sidewalk on SW Clay St in Portland, Oregon, on Dec. 9, 2020. City council members in Portland, Oregon, are set to vote on a resolution that would ban homeless street camping and move residents to specific, sanctioned camps.
(AP Photo/Craig Mitchelldyer, File)

The initial proposal aimed to create three camps that would allow 500 people each, but Hardesty and Commissioner Carmen Rubio introduced an amendment to change that capacity to six camps of 250 each over concerns that it would lead to unsafe conditions. 

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“My goal here is to make it abundantly clear that we recognize and hear the concerns about size and because of the compelling testimony we’ve heard,” Rubio said.

A homeless camp near the east side of the Hawthorne Bridge as smoke from wildfires fills the air in Portland, Oregon, U.S., on Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2020. 

A homeless camp near the east side of the Hawthorne Bridge as smoke from wildfires fills the air in Portland, Oregon, U.S., on Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2020. 
(Rebecca Smeyne/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Wheeler was the only member to vote against the amendment, citing a desire to “maintain the flexibility” he felt the original proposal offered. 

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One major concern lies with concerns over where the city will find funding to build these camps and additional affordable housing: The city budget office said that each camp would cost between $3 million and $6.8 million annually and that affordable housing could cost up to just shy of $10 million to build. 

Fox News’ Paul Best contributed to this report. 

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