PORTLAND, Ore. — Hours into a Wednesday afternoon Portland City Council session, commissioners voted to pass an ordinance banning homeless camps during daytime hours while banning them altogether in certain areas of the city.
The proposed ordinance came up for public testimony last week, drawing a large and often boisterous audience and hours of impassioned debate. While speakers fell on both sides of the issue, more people expressed opposition at the microphone. More than half of the written testimony was in favor.
A vote on the ordinance happened around 5:30 p.m. Wednesday. Commissioner Mingus Mapps was absent for the entire session, so the vote went forward with Commissioners Carmen Rubio, Dan Ryan, Rene Gonzalez and Mayor Ted Wheeler.
Ultimately, the ordinance passed with yes votes from Ryan, Gonzalez and Wheeler. Though Mapps was not present to vote, he asked Wheeler to read a statement in support of the ordinance. Rubio was the lone no vote.
What the ordinance does
The ordinance prohibits homeless people from camping on city property between the hours of 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. — requiring that tents and other belongings be dismantled and removed by those daytime hours.
The ordinance also imposes permanent bans on camping in a "pedestrian use zone," within 250 feet of schools or childcare centers, in the public right-of-way along city-designated high crash corridors and around city parks, including city-sponsored shelter sites.
Gas heaters in campsites are likewise banned at all times, along with obstruction of access to a private property or business next to a public right-of-way, damage to the environment and accumulation of garbage.
The city said it will be implemented starting in late July at the earliest, in a "phased-in approach."
What happens if there are violations?
Under the ordinance, the Portland Police Bureau could issue citations for violations. The first and second violations — which must be separated by at least 24 hours — would earn written warnings. The third and subsequent violations could result in a fine of $100 or less, jail time of 30 days or less, or both.
Enforcement of the ban remains the most nebulous aspect. The ordinance empowers Portland police to issue citations, even make arrests after three violations. But city officials have frequently gestured to staffing shortages at the Portland Police Bureau limiting their response to more significant crimes, so it's unclear how they would have the resources to respond to violations of the camping ban.
Gonzalez told KGW Tuesday that "almost no one’s going to jail over this," but nonetheless said that the ban will help police enforce the removal of tents.
What city commissioners said
Commissioner Rubio, the only no vote, had proposed an amendment to the ordinance, delaying the start of the camping ban until the city successfully opened two of its large sanctioned camps. She reasoned that people would need somewhere to go, and nonprofits that provide homeless services would need time to prepare and bring up the capacity of shelters.
Mayor Ted Wheeler released a statement that said, “The next few months will be focused on education and outreach – with an emphasis on ensuring the homelessness navigation outreach teams have clear and thorough information on this new ordinance. These reasonable restrictions, coupled with our work on increasing shelter availability along with access to services, are a step in the right direction toward a revitalized Portland.”
Gonzalez suggested last week that he'd propose making parts of the ordinance even more strict, inspired by ordinances proposed in some of Portland's suburbs. He advocated for larger buffers between camps and schools or childcare facilities, expanding buffers around city-backed shelters and mandating larger distances between the camps themselves.
On Wednesday, Gonzalez said this ordinance is a step forward.
“We’re not going to let perfect be the enemy of good,” he said.
He did not come forward with an amendment on Wednesday and Rubio's amendment — which almost certainly would have been voted down — did not appear for a vote.
This is a developing story and will be updated with more details as they emerge.