People for Portland proposes ballot measure to eliminate outdoor camping

Homeless encampment in North Portland near the N Rosa Parks Way exit on I-5, October 11, 2021.

Kristyna Wentz-Graff/OPB

Advocacy group People for Portland has proposed a November ballot measure that would redirect the bulk of Metro’s 2020 homeless services measure money to emergency shelter and force people living on the streets to move into the shelter space.

If passed as currently writtenThe measure would be a step change from the region’s current strategy to tackle homelessness, prioritizing housing over securing permanent housing for people.

The measure would require that at least three-quarters of tax money from Metro’s supportive housing service measure be directed to emergency shelters. This ratio would remain until each county has enough beds to house all homeless people in the area and each municipality “enforces its own anti-camping ordinances.”

It is not immediately clear how this measure would work under Martin v. Boise, a landmark case that found cities couldn’t enforce their anti-camping rules if they didn’t have enough shelter beds for all homeless people.

The Metro Homeless Service measure imposed a 1% tax on high-income earners in Washington, Clackamas and Multnomah counties. It is expected to generate about $250 million annually for supportive housing services – services that help people at risk of homelessness stay in their homes. Including case managementrental assistance and housing.

People have speculated fiercely in recent months about the end goals of People For Portland, a mostly anonymously funded campaign. Top political consultants Kevin Looper and Dan Lavey unveiled the effort in August 2021, saying they wanted to “make politicians listen more” to voters through public polling and an email campaign. mass emails.

After political consultant Kevin Looper helped guide Oregon Governor Kate Brown to victory last year, she asked him to watch for issues that may end up being thrown back to voters after lawmakers act.

Political consultant Kevin Looper helped lead People for Portland, an effort that now wants to force people living outdoors in the metro area to find shelter.

Jeff Mapes/OPB

Many were skeptical and insisted the group had more muscular goals. That camp of skeptics seemed to have proven itself last Friday when People for Portland tabled the ballot initiative proposal, titled “Everyone Deserves a Safe Shelter.” In addition to redirecting money from Metro’s homeless service measure, the proposal would require Metro to conduct an annual audit of how its measure’s money is used. The People for Portland effort would also bar anyone with a conflict of interest from serving on a fund oversight committee.

Finally, it would allow any Metro resident to sue the government if they believe the People for Portland measure is not being enforced. Plaintiffs could recover their attorney’s fees.

The measure strikes at the heart of an ongoing debate in the city about whether to prioritize the creation of permanent shelters or housing for people experiencing homelessness. Portland residents have long called on officials to expand shelter options and argue that the status quo of tents lining the streets is inhumane. Housing advocates, providers and elected officials are reluctant to pour too much money into shelters, arguing that putting housing first is the only real way to end homelessness. They say People For Portland’s plan won’t make a dent in the region’s deepening homelessness crisis and will likely solve only one problem for housed Portlanders: signs of abject poverty that border on many city blocks.

“Shelters don’t end homelessness,” said Angela Martin, one of the chief architects behind the 2020 Metro Homeless Service measure. “It’s an expensive holding pattern.”

Martin worked alongside People for Portland’s Kevin Looper to pass the Metro’s homeless service measure in 2020. Looper has since become one of the measure’s most vocal critics, arguing that officials and homeless providers have moved too slowly to get money into the hands of people who desperately need it.

In a statement, the group presented its ballot measure as an attempt to address “the inhumanity, misery and death among the thousands of people living homeless in the Portland area.”

According to a Metro spokesperson, money from the Metro measure added 1,640 shelter beds, placed 456 people in permanent supportive housing and provided 1,406 people with eviction prevention assistance.

Martin said many of these people would be at risk of eviction if the People for Portland measure were passed because dollars keeping people in housing would be siphoned off.

“At the time we need to divert 75% of the funds to shelter only, we will need to start doing evictions for people we have already placed in permanent housing,” she said.

In announcing its ballot measure, People for Portland joins a series of advocacy groups that have sprung up over the past two years, determined to reduce the footprint of homeless camps that have proliferated during the pandemic. In Austin, Texas, a county GOP chairman and a Democratic activist have joined together to form an advocacy group called Save Austin Now. This group got a measure on the ballot last May to reinstate the ban on outdoor camping and impose fines on those who did not go to the shelter. In SacramentoCalifornia voters are considering a proposed ballot measure that would ban outdoor camping and allow residents to sue the city if they don’t clean up campsites.

Portland residents will need to collect 51,000 signatures to get the measure in the November ballot.

Sally J. Minick