PORTLAND – Campers have been in front of Portland City Hall for two years, but not anymore.
Just after 8 a..m. Tuesday, police forced campers to vacate the area in front of City Hall, enforcing an eviction notice issued by Mayor Charlie Hales.
One man who refused to move was detained by police. The man was escorted across the street but not arrested. A few others actively disobeyed the eviction, but eventually left. Many others had already left after learning of the eviction notice.
Once the sidewalks were clear, city crews brought in pressure washers to clean the streets.
The eviction came after the Mayor designated the area in front of City Hall as a "High Pedestrian Traffic Zone," enabling the camping restrictions.
The move was prompted by repeated complaints about the campers, including 113 calls for service in the last 180 days, according to city leaders.
Camping Still Allowed at Night
People will not be allowed to camp outside of city hall during the day but people will be allowed to camp overnight between 9 p.m. and 7 a.m.
While the original intent was to remove the campers entirely, a review found the ordinance City Hall is using only forces campers to leave between the hours of 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. They can return after that for the night.
Most of the homeless had stopped camping voluntarily before the 7 a.m. restriction. A handful remained, bolstered by vocal protesters, before leaving Tuesday morning.
“People who work in this building have been harassed in and out of the building," Hales said during a brief press conference Monday. "Our offices are getting complaints from citizens that they're not willing to come to city hall anymore because they're intimidated by what they're seeing.”
The city posted the eviction notices last Friday with a one-week deadline for the campers to leave. Monday he announced that they had until Tuesday morning.
The campers claim their First Amendment rights should allow them to stay. But city zoning rules prevent camping around City Hall during the day.
Authorities said the camping had become a public safety issue, and an eyesore. Sleeping bags were strewn across the sidewalk. The makeshift camp included a working BBQ, several dogs and piles of personal belongings.
Business leaders agreed that something must be done.
"It has a big impact as far as the economy of downtown and just general livability for everybody," said Megan Doern of the Portland Business Alliance.
Campers said they wanted to bring attention to the city’s homeless problem. Supporters came out Monday morning to help the campers make their statement. They said it was a show of solidarity.
“A lot of people just want to get a place to live. They want to get a job, they want to get a place to live. If you are on the street and you have to carry their belongings with you, that's just not going to happen. There are no resources in the city of Portland to help people,” protester Mike Withey said.
“There's a problem here right now, and that's a public safety issue, that's this issue. It has nothing to do really with the homeless issue, in downtown Portland or in America in general, or in our economy. Those are different issues,” countered Dana Haynes, a spokeswoman with the mayor's office.