PORTLAND, Ore. — Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler announced an emergency declaration Friday to ban camping near school campuses and along walking routes leading to and from schools.
"With the start of the school year approaching, I am taking this additional action to help ensure the safety of school-age children, especially those in elementary and middle schools, as they travel to and from local schools," he said in a statement. "School-age children should be able to walk, bike, and ride buses to get to and from schools without potentially dangerous hazards as a result of encampments, including trash, tents in the right-of-way, biohazards, hypodermic needles, and more."
Wheeler's office said he would be unavailable for comment Friday.
Wheeler's office describes the ban in a news release as an expansion of a prior emergency order that the mayor enacted in February to ban camping along high-crash corridors after a report revealed that 70% of the city's pedestrian fatalities last year were homeless residents.
The updated declaration prohibits camping within 150 feet of school buildings and along "Primary Investment Routes," which refers to a network of streets and corridors identified as likely to have a high density of students walking to and from school.
The routes were identified in 2016 by Safe Routes to School, a program developed as part of the implementation of a gas and heavy vehicle tax that Portland voters passed that year to raise money for street maintenance.
The city's map of the Primary Investment Routes is embedded below. Schools are marked in purple and the Primary Investment Routes are highlighted in gray (the map needs to be zoomed in to a certain level for the routes to be visible).
The declaration will prioritize the removal of camps in those areas, according to the news release, and will enable staff to keep the sites free of camping with no right of return.
Portland mom Kathryn Schmidt has two teen daughters. One is going into 6th grade and the other will be in 9th grade when the school year begins. While she believes the mayor's expansion of the ban is a step in the right direction, she thinks more needs to be done.
“I, along with most people, hope for a permanent solution, where having to bring emergency order repeatedly — which have to be re-enacted regularly — it’s not a solution, it’s a stopgap measure,” said Schmidt.
Her daughters often independently walk to and from school, as well as around their neighborhood. Schmidt said they’ve encountered homeless encampments and are no strangers to homeless issues in the city.
“They don’t feel safe with that, so they’ve had to reroute a few times,” she said.
Schmidt said she understands the reality of living in Portland. Her kids are learning to be careful. But as a parent, she gets worried.
“On the one hand it’s reality, so (my kids) need to understand they live with a lot of privilege and what can they do to make the community better? But it also, as a parent, makes you furious on a daily basis because I don’t want to be here at work worrying about their safety,” said Schmidt. “They’re so much savvier than I am, and not savvy in ways I necessarily wanted them to be.”
The expanded version of the declaration takes effect immediately and is set to expire Aug. 31, but a spokesperson for Wheeler said the mayor's office intends to renew it every two weeks.