Wheeler outlines ambitious, unfunded plan to build massive campsites and ban street camping
On Friday morning, Mayor Ted Wheeler announced a set of five resolutions coming to Portland City Council in the coming weeks to address homelessness. They’re big, ambitious, and not yet funded, but signal a paradigm shift in the city’s approach to homelessness.
Expensive items were first reported by WW Last week. They include: three licensed campsites with a capacity of 500 places (starting with 150 people in each of the three), an 18-month phased ban on unauthorized camping and a target to begin construction of 20,000 housing units affordable by 2033. .
At Friday morning’s press conference, Wheeler acknowledged that opponents would criticize coupling a camping ban with mass encampments.
“I believe that thought is well intentioned, but I also believe it is deeply flawed,” Wheeler said. “The fact is that over the last eight months we have multiplied alternative camping options without bans, and to be completely transparent, it has not worked.
In other ambitious plans presented in the draft resolutions, shared with WW On Thursday afternoon, the city wants to partner with the Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office to create a program whereby people cited for unauthorized camping and other low-level offenses can resolve those citations by accepting drug treatment or other services.
The resolutions also call on city staff and offices to work to remove barriers to building more affordable housing, as well as inventorying all city-owned properties where affordable housing could be built and create a database of “land banks”.
The fifth resolution presented by the mayor is perhaps the most revealing: ask for help from government partners.
This matters for two reasons: City Hall doesn’t control the money needed to implement Wheeler’s plan, and Portland’s homeless camps have become the biggest issue for Oregon voters. threatening the Democratic Party’s hold on the state government.
“We don’t have the expertise and we don’t have the resources to go it alone,” Wheeler said, adding that he was talking to state senators, the three gubernatorial candidates (who all said earlier this week that they supported Wheeler’s sanctioned campsites), congressional delegates, Metro and the county. In a statement Friday morning, US Congressman Earl Blumenauer said he was “ready to help the city and call on all community leaders, elected and unelected, to support this effort.”
All the ambitious plans established so far are unfunded. The town hall said WW As of last week, he’s been seeking funding from a number of partners, including state and federal governments and Multnomah County, but that’s easier said than done.
For one, Multnomah County is not likely to acquiesce. Board Chair Deborah Kafoury released a scathing response last week to the city’s request, written in a letter from Mayor Wheeler and City Commissioner Dan Ryan, that the county fund sites with a capacity of 500 people. She said WW“If the mayor’s office wants to ‘clean up’ this town and enforce the laws of time, place and manner, they don’t have to hide behind me or anyone else. They can just do it.
This morning, however, Wheeler hinted at patching up the rift.
“The [county chair] and I agree that the city and county need to work as a team to address homelessness,” Wheeler said. “Together, we are currently assessing all funding and programming tools that can be leveraged to address our large-scale humanitarian crisis.” (He didn’t say whether Kafoury had agreed to offer the city funding and noted that he was also speaking with the two candidates for board chairmanship in next month’s general election.)
What weighs in on the city’s demands to the county last week, as first reported WW, is the Joint Office of Homeless Services agreement, which is up for renewal next summer. The city can choose to opt out of the agreement and withdraw its annual contribution to the Joint Office, in the range of $40 million to $45 million per year. This would give the city at least partial funding to pursue the mayor’s plans.
All five city council members attended Friday’s press conference, but two in particular stopped short of offering unqualified endorsement of the plan: commissioners Jo Ann Hardesty and Carmen Rubio.
“I’m not here to endorse or oppose this plan at this time,” Hardesty said, “but to understand that there are several intriguing resolutions on the table…Here’s what I know: We we all agree that we are in an emergency situation and must act with more urgency.
Hardesty said it does, however, support sanctioned temporary camping areas and expanding indoor shelter capacity. She said her office would be proposing amendments to the “recently shared” resolutions in the days and weeks ahead.
Rubio also voiced his support with some caveats. She said she would ensure the process was “responsible for the values of fairness, dignity, respect and compassion”.
Commissioner Mingus Mapps said he intends to vote for all five resolutions when they come before city council in the coming weeks.