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Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler unveils new plan to address city's homeless crisis

The city would open three large sanctioned camping sites and provide easier access to mental health and substance-abuse services, under the terms of the plan.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler introduced a multi-faceted plan that addresses Portland's ongoing homeless and housing crisis on Friday, a plan that would ban unsanctioned camping across the city while opening three large sanctioned camping sites, and provide homeless people easier access to mental health and substance-abuse recovery services, among other proposed solutions.

The plan includes five resolutions, which will be presented at a city council meeting on Wednesday, Oct. 26. The agenda for the meeting says the public can register to offer public testimony that afternoon.

The council meeting can be streamed live on YouTube when it begins at 2 p.m. Wednesday.

The plan calls for the construction of 20,000 units of affordable housing by 2033. This resolution also asks city bureaus and council offices to build a landbank of up to 400 publicly owned sites suitable for multi-family housing development, identify vacant or underutilized privately-owned properties and ask state partners, including the governor and state legislature to increase state and local funding for affordable housing.

RELATED: Mayor Wheeler to propose camping ban across Portland and build mega-camps as an alternative

Also included in the mayor's plan is a ban on unsanctioned homeless camps across the city with the promise that the city will provide more safe spaces for homeless people to stay, including emergency shelters, Safe Rest Villages and designated sanctioned campsites. The resolution states that the ban would be phased in over 18 months, "once funding has been secured."

The designated sanctioned campsites, as outlined in the resolution, would serve 150 people to start, with the potential to expand to 500 people per campus, and would be managed 24/7 with access to hygiene, food and other services. The first designated site would open within 18 months after funding is secured. The mayor's plan calls for three of these sanctioned campsites.

RELATED: Candidates for Oregon governor are on board with Wheeler's proposed homeless plan

Watch full press conference: 

The plan also calls for a change to city protocols that would help homeless people more easily access sanitary, mental health and substance-abuse recovery services, and a revised system that would expand "non-standard work options," such as gig and itinerant work, "especially for Portlanders experiencing houselessness."

The plan also proposes a partnership with the Multnomah County District Attorney, "the judiciary, service providers and subject matters experts" to design a diversion program that would give people cited for low-level offenses the option to deal with consequences and legal issues outside the criminal legal system.

In a press release from the mayor's office, the four city council members — Dan Ryan, Carmen Rubio, Jo Ann Hardesty and Mingus Mapps — expressed at least tentative support for a plan to address the city's homeless crisis.

Ryan worked on the plan with Wheeler and Mapps said he's "in full support" of the mayor's plan.

Rubio said in a statement that how the city carries out "any new approach with our houseless community members will be important and make all the difference in its effectiveness" and said she'd be a "vocal and active participant" in the process.

Hardesty said "the devil is always in the details" but said she's intrigued by proposals in the mayor's plan. She said she hopes the council can "work together on an urgent response to our houseless crisis that is grounded in compassion."

Read the four commissioners' complete statements at the bottom of this article.

Here's what the mayor's office released in a news statement about each of the five resolutions:

Resolution 1: Establish key actions to increase affordable housing construction

  • Reduce the 5-year average waiting lists to get into affordable housing by catalyzing the construction of 20,000 units of housing by 2033. Key actions include identifying and land-banking up to 400 publicly owned sites that are shovel-ready for development, speeding permitting of nonprofit and private multifamily housing developments, and requesting assistance from the Oregon Governor and State Legislature to increase statewide funding and expand local options to fund affordable housing.

Resolution 2: Assess options to increase coordination and enhance unhoused access to paid non-standard work

  • Work with partners to assess and explore a system to better structure gig and itinerant work (non-standard work) so that the needs of workers are prioritized, and more people can successfully participate in, benefit from, and advance in the labor market.

Resolution 3: Connect mental health and substance abuse recovery services to unhoused individuals

  • Change City’s outdoor camping protocols to better connect homeless individuals with available sanitary, mental health, and substance abuse recovery services and banning self-sited encampments with designated alternative locations (e.g., emergency shelter, Safe Rest Villages, designated sanctioned campsites).

Resolution 4: Create a diversion program for individuals experiencing homelessness

  • Request assistance from stakeholders, including the Multnomah County District Attorney ("MCDA") and other experts providing community-based homeless, mental health and substance abuse recovery services, to create a services diversion program by offering people cited for low level offenses more opportunities to address pending legal issues and related collateral consequences outside of the criminal legal system.

Resolution 5: Set City budget priorities to implement affordable housing, connect homeless individuals with sanitary, mental health and substance abuse recovery services and request assistance from County, Metro, State, and Federal partners

Here are the full statements from each of the four city commissioners:

Commissioner Dan Ryan: Our children and families need safe access to play in our parks, and our elders and individuals with mobility aids need clear access to our sidewalks. No one wants to be in this state of emergency. We can’t wait for traditional housing alone to fix this. We must adopt additional action for the sake of those who are homeless and those who are not—and City, County and Metro must align and support one another to safely make it happen. We must stop tolerating the intolerable.

Commissioner Carmen Rubio: We need much more housing than is in the pipeline and we also need interim safe, healthy solutions for our houseless community members while they are awaiting supportive housing and services. But let me be clear: how we carry out any new approach with our houseless community members will be important and make all the difference in its effectiveness. I plan to be a vocal and active participant and partner in shaping those approaches to ensure they are reflective of, and accountable to, the values of respect, equity, service, compassion and dignity.

Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty: We all agree we are in an emergency and should respond with more urgency. That should start with immediately expanding our emergency temporary shelter capacity to meet current needs, protecting renters so our crisis doesn’t get worse, and rapidly expanding housing that people can actually afford to live in. The devil is always in the details, but there are proposals here I’m intrigued by, such as creating a public land bank. As I work through these proposals, I’m hopeful as a Council we can work together on an urgent response to our houseless crisis that is grounded in compassion and lending a helping hand to those most in need. Those are the values I will bring to the discussion that will occur over the next few weeks, and I look forward to that work.

Commissioner Mingus Mapps: I am in full support of the Mayor's plan. It is a thoughtful and comprehensive approach to multiple challenges facing our city. I applaud his team and city staff for identifying affordable housing, job placement, substance abuse and treatment, shelter, and diversion as a multifaceted approach to houselessness. This complex and nuanced direction will lead us out of our current impasse and I am looking forward to working with our jurisdictional partners to make this effort happen.

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