PORTLAND, Ore. — Mayor Ted Wheeler has extended an emergency declaration by two weeks to prohibit all camping along dangerous roadways in the city of Portland. The declaration will now remain in effect until March 4.
Wheeler first issued the declaration on Feb. 4, shortly after the Portland Bureau of Transportation reported that 70% of pedestrians killed in traffic crashes last year were homeless. He extended it Friday, the day it was set to expire.
“We can no longer justify allowing our most vulnerable community members to be exposed to the dangers of camping in freeway and high-crash corridors," Wheeler said in a Feb. 4 news conference.
As part of the declaration, the city's Impact Reduction Program teams are prioritizing cleanup and removal of campsites along high-crash corridors, which Wheeler said makes up about 8% of the city.
The teams are required to post notice for 72 hours before commencing with camp cleanups, but anyone who subsequently attempts to reestablish a camp in a high-crash area will be immediately told to leave.
On Friday, Wheeler said cleanup efforts are underway, with highways deemed most dangerous being addressed first.
Between Feb. 7-13, the Impact Reduction Program has received more than 1,000 new campsite reports; It removed 17 campsites due to health and safety risks and cleaned up nine campsites by removing only garbage and biohazardous materials. Campsite removal updates are being posted here on the city's website.
The Oregonian reported that Wheeler is also expected to announce a new plan next week to address Portland's homeless crisis on a larger scale.
Last month, Wheeler's office sent a memo to state and local leaders proposing three 1,000-person homeless shelters to end unsanctioned camping in the city. That plan was met with sharp criticism from officials.
The newspaper said Wheeler is now looking to create one or more large outdoor sheltering sites for people experiencing homelessness. They would be bigger than tiny home clusters but smaller than the group shelters pitched in his earlier memo.
Wheeler said these "designated camping areas" would provide some basic services, but less support than the Safe Rest Villages planned last year.
Commissioner Dan Ryan, who is spearheading the Safe Rest Villages, said that project is still in the works.
In a statement to KGW, Ryan expressed concern about the Mayor Wheeler's plan:
"Massive outdoor sheltering sites are a dangerous proposition... I am open to thoughtful solutions—I'm all in for urgency—but I cannot support this idea to corral hundreds of vulnerable people without social services, without community safety assurances, or a strategic management plan in place."