The city council of Portland, Oregon, voted Thursday to close homeless encampments in favor of creating six larger campsites with a 250-person capacity.
“People on the streets deserve our compassion. They need our understanding, and many of them need our help to get off and stay off the streets,” Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler explained after the vote, according to the Associated Press.
More than 3,000 people currently sleep on Portland streets in roughly 700 encampments.
The package containing the ban on unsanctioned homeless encampments passed with four votes, including the mayor, to one.
The six sites will be open to the public within 18 months and start with an initial capacity of 150 people.
Not everyone is convinced the plan to concentrate the homeless in larger sites, whose capacity was bumped down from 500 to 250 by amendment before the vote, will work.
“Saying we will magically wave a wand in 18 months and there will be no more street camping is not real. These resolutions contain no code changes, identify no funding or land, and have no agreements between jurisdictional partners,” Portland City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, the lone no vote, told Oregon Public Broadcasting.
Randy Humphreys, who was homeless in Portland for 11 years, said at the meeting, according to AP: “There are gonna be fights. There could be shootings. There could be disasters waiting to happen if you stick 500 people in one area. It’s unethical.”
Activists are on both sides, each with different diagnoses and prescriptions for the homeless problem.
Pro-ban advocates such as the Cicero Institute, which wrote the model legislation on which some urban camping bans are based, see large campsites as a way to work around the timeline of building more affordable housing.
“One of the biggest problems that sanctioned camping is trying to address is just the unbelievable difficulty of getting more shovels in the ground to get shelter. … The answer can’t possibly be for these cities (to) wait two or three decades and we’re going to build enough permanent housing,” Earl “Judge” Glock, the Cicero Institute’s senior director of policy and research, told AP.
Other groups prefer a housing-first approach, seeing large campsites as an “out of sight, out of mind” sort of maneuver.
“The overarching goal of this slate of resolutions seems to just further invisibilize poverty and houselessness on Portland streets instead of directly housing people,” Lauren Armony of the nonprofit cafeteria Sisters of the Road said at the meeting, according to the Portland Mercury.
Portland Commissioner Dan Ryan was emphatic that the numerous homeless sites on public streets are intolerable.
“This is an action for all Portlanders. We know that our public right-of-way in a city is not designed for public camping. We can’t prioritize one reality over the other. We can’t keep tolerating the intolerable over the tolerable,” Mr. Ryan said, according to the Portland Mercury.
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