PORTLAND, Ore. — The Portland City Council voted Thursday evening to adopt a large and controversial plan from Mayor Ted Wheeler to tackle the city's homelessness crisis, including a ban on unsanctioned camping and the creation of several large-scale sanctioned campsites.
Wheeler unveiled his plan two weeks ago, and the package of five resolutions had an initial public hearing last week at a council meeting that stretched into the night as hundreds of Portland residents and groups testified about the proposal, offering a mix of praise and criticism.
The resolutions came back for a council vote Thursday, and all five passed unanimously at the end of the meeting with the exception of the camping ban, which passed 4-1 with a No vote from Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty.
You can watch a live stream of the city council session below.
Ahead of the meeting, the ACLU of Oregon and the Portland nonprofit Street Roots, which advocates for homeless residents and separately publishes a weekly paper that covers issues impacting homeless people, issued a statement calling for the vote on the "mass encampment" proposal to be postponed, and demanding public records of communications between officials about the policy and testimony at last week's meeting.
Kaia Sand, executive director of Street Roots, had previously objected to the fact that Commissioner Dan Ryan's office had moved business-related speakers — who were generally in favor of the plan — to the front of the line to testify last week, as reported by The Oregonian.
The Thursday press release reiterated that complaint, and also argued that the mass camp proposal is likely unconstitutional based on prior court rulings and the way the public hearing was conducted.
Details of the plan
The original plan called for banning unsanctioned camping across the city while opening three large sanctioned camping sites and providing easier access to mental health and substance-abuse recovery services for homeless people.
The ban would be phased in over 18 months "once funding has been secured" to create more safe spaces for homeless people to stay like Safe Rest Villages and other sanctioned campsites, and the plan proposes a partnership with the Multnomah County District Attorney to create a diversion program for people cited for low-level offenses.
The plan also calls for the construction of 20,000 units of affordable housing by 2033, and asks city bureaus to build a land bank of up to 400 publicly owned sites for multi-family development. The city would also call on the governor and state legislature to increase funding for affordable housing.
Wheeler's plan is the city's latest attempt to address the housing and homelessness crisis, which has become an increasingly prominent area of public concern in recent years as the number of people living unsheltered in the city has ballooned to more than 3,000.
Commissioners introduced more than a dozen amendments before the final vote Thursday, starting with two from Commissioner Carmen Rubio. The first directed the city’s housing bureau to work with other city bureaus on acquiring property to determine if it can be used for affordable housing, and to make that collaboration a permanent practice. It passed unanimously.
The other Rubio amendment revised the size guidelines for the large-scale sanctioned camps, changing it from three camps with a maximum of 500 people each to six camps with a maximum of 250. It passed 4-0, with Wheeler voting No because he argued that the original version would be more flexible.
Hardesty introduced 10 amendments, four of which failed to get a second from another council member, one of which she later voluntarily withdrew and three of which were voted down in 3-2 votes with Hardesty and Rubio voting Yes and Wheeler and Commissioners Mingus Mapps and Dan Ryan voting No.
Two Hardesty amendments passed, the first of which was an amendment to require the big sanctioned campsites to be distributed throughout the city, which Hardesty said was necessary to make sure the sites didn’t end up concentrated in lower-income neighborhoods. It passed on a 3-2 vote, with Wheeler and Ryan voting No.
The other was an amendment that added language to make sure the big campsites are equipped to serve residents with disabilities. Mapps expressed reservations, arguing that the camps would already need to comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act, but ultimately joined the rest of the council to pass the amendment unanimously.
Thursday's meeting included an option for additional public testimony on amendments to the five resolutions in the plan. About 40 people testified with a mix of endorsement and criticism although there were a larger number of critics, particularly people objecting to the camping ban and mass campsites.
Many of the critics also voiced support for some or all of Hardesty’s and Rubio’s proposed amendments.