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Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler enacts emergency ban on homeless camps along dangerous roads

The emergency measure comes shortly after the Portland Bureau of Transportation reported that 70% of pedestrians killed in traffic crashes last year were homeless.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler has enacted an emergency declaration to prohibit all camping along freeways and high-crash streets and intersections in the city of Portland. 

The declaration will take effect at 3 p.m. Friday, according to Wheeler. It invokes a state of emergency that will remain in effect through Feb. 18.

“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 news conference earlier in the day.

Those areas make up about 8% of the city, Wheeler said, and the emergency policy will prioritize them for campsite removal and cleanup by the city's Impact Reduction Program teams.

The teams will be required to post notice for 72 hours before commencing with camp cleanups, he said, but anyone who subsequently attempts to reestablish a camp in a high-crash area will be immediately told to leave without the team having to restart the cleanup process.

Wheeler said enforcement of the ban won't require taking any attention away from existing cleanup efforts due to increased resources made available through the city's most recent budget process. 

RELATED: 70% of pedestrians killed in Portland traffic incidents last year were homeless, report finds

The pending order was first reported Thursday by The Oregonian and comes in direct response to the city's annual traffic crash report that found 70% of pedestrians killed in Portland traffic incidents last year were homeless residents, many of whom were camping near high-crash corridors.

On Wednesday, Mayor Wheeler shared KGW's story on the annual traffic report, writing on Twitter: "These statistics are devastating. Portlanders deserve safer streets, roads, and freeways."

Other camp removals have failed to provide long-term solutions, with many homeless folks remaining vulnerable on the street, simply moving to other parts of the city

Wheeler said he has been making efforts to increase the availability of shelter beds, but he said the emergency declaration was aimed at solving the immediate problem of homeless residents being killed along dangerous roadways.

The order appears to have been drafted fairly quickly. Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, who oversees the Portland Bureau of Transportation, tweeted earlier on Friday that neither her office nor PBOT was consulted in developing the plan.

Wheeler admitted at the press conference that his office didn't finalize the ban until the past couple days, but he claimed that other commissioners were aware he was considering an emergency action. 

His chief of staff, Bobby Lee, added that copies of the draft declaration were sent to various department heads for review on Thursday, including Hardesty's team (but not Hardesty herself).

The ban drew objections from multiple housing and transportation advocacy groups including Central City Concern, The Street Trust and No More Freeways, all of whom signed a letter sent to Wheeler ahead of the press conference criticizing the plan, Willamette Week reported on Friday.

Recent polling suggests the homeless crisis is now the number one issue for Portlanders citywide. 

Last week, a poll conducted by DHM Research for the Portland Business Alliance, found 88% of those surveyed believe the quality of life is getting worse in Portland and 45% said homelessness is the city’s biggest problem, up from 24% in 2017.

RELATED: 'Voters are in a really sour mood': Poll finds Portlanders frustrated by homelessness, crime, city leadership

Wheeler said the poll results had no bearing on his decision to ban camping in high-crash corridors, but they underscored the need for action. He described the emergency order as the first of several actions he intends to take to provide more assistance for homeless Portlanders and speed up camp cleanup efforts.

Wheeler and Commissioner Dan Ryan also jointly announced a rule on Friday morning that would create buffer zones around Safe Rest Villages, prioritizing the clearing of any unsanctioned camps within 150 feet of the village sites.

The Safe Rest Villages are a planned set of six organized campsites for homeless residents that would provide them with individual shelters and access to support and services, funded by $20 million in federal COVID aid money.

Ryan initially outlined the plan for the villages in June, with a self-imposed goal of getting them up and running by the end of 2021, but his office has struggled with supply chain issues and identifying suitable sites. Only three village locations have been announced so far, and none of them have opened.

In the Friday press release, Ryan described the buffer as a way to give "safety and breathing room" to village residents and prevent "triggering incidents which may lead to relapse."

This story is developing and will be updated.

 

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