Portland City Council will consider next week a plan to "de-prioritize" sweeping certain homeless campsites based on their location.
The proposed ordinance, drafted by City Commissioner Dan Ryan, directs the city department tasked with clearing homeless encampments on public property to veer away from sweeping camps defined as "low-impact" that are at least:
- 150 feet away from an elementary or middle school
- 100 feet away from a high school
- 150 feet away from a child care facility or preschool
- 50 feet away from a park property line
- 10 feet away from a residential building
- 10 feet away from the main entrance or emergency exit of a commercial building
- outside a wildfire hazard area
- outside an area that's been zoned as environmental overlay, scenic overlay, natural area, or flood hazard area by the city
The city department that oversees sweeps, the Homelessness and Urban Camping Impact Reduction Program (HUCIRP), defines "low-impact" campsites by what they aren't. In short, they are camps without evidence of conspicuous drug use or other criminal activity, without hazardous materials that impact the environment, without sprawl that limits public access or city maintenance work, or camps that aren't set up on property clearly marked "no trespassing." HUCIRP defines camps that meet those descriptions as "high-impact."
This new ordinance comes a month after HUCIRP announced new guidelines for clearing campsites, including a faster response to sweeping high-impact camps.
Ryan's proposed ordinance doesn't change these guidelines—in some ways, it simply underscores them. By listing what types of campsites should be de-prioritized, he quietly points to the types of camps that should be cleared with urgency. There are several camps in Portland that seem to fall into that category, including one that has flooded city commissioners' inboxes with angry homeowner messages for months: Laurelhurst Park. The row of 30 or so tents along SE Oak, which cuts through the southern edge of Laurelhurst Park, lies within the stated boundary of at least "50 feet from a park property line," easily designating it as a camp that should be "prioritized" under Ryan's proposed ordinance.
Although the encampment itself has been cleared by city contractors under HUCIRP's direction several times since it first popped up in late 2020, the area has remained a community hub for unhoused Portlanders. Camp representatives and advocates have met with City Hall staffers to express their needs in recent months. Those conversations have ended with Ryan's office offering another proposal: Creating six city-sanctioned campsites where unhoused Portlanders can stay without the threat of being swept.
Ryan's ordinance mentions this initiative, which calls these campsites "Safe Rest Villages." The ordinance defines Safe Rest Villages as "outdoor shelters which provide baseline services, such as sanitation, hygiene, case management, security, and most importantly, dignity and stability."
Along with directing HUCIRP to de-prioritize certain low-impact camps, the ordinance instructs HUCIRP staff to "refer persons residing in high impact encampments to Safe Rest Villages when available and will assist in said persons' relocation to Safe Rest Villages." It clarifies: "Referral to a Safe Rest Village is voluntary for the referred person."
These villages have yet to be created. City bureaus have been instructed to send City Council a list of surplus property overseen by their bureau that could be used for camping by next Wednesday, June 30. It'll be up to council to review that property list and determine which areas should be turned into Safe Rest Villages, and how they'll be managed. Ryan's office is also in the process of hiring a project manager and coordinating an oversight group of stakeholders in the community to help inform the new program. According to Ryan's office, the plan is to have all six camps up and running by the end of 2021.
Ryan's ordinance includes another procedural change meant to expedite campsite sweeps. Before clearing a homeless camp, HUCIRP currently must coordinate with the bureau that oversees the city property where that camp is located. For example, before sweeping unhoused Portlanders from the Laurelhurst Park site, HUCIRP must get approval from Portland Parks and Recreation and Portland Bureau of Transportation (which manages sidewalks). This can delay the process, and gives city commissioners who oversee related bureaus an opportunity to stand in the way of an approved camp sweep. The proposed ordinance rewrites city code to allow HUCIRP contractors to clear "unauthorized camping at city owned or managed property without obtaining authorization from the bureau to which the property is assigned."
City Council will vote on Ryan's ordinance at its Wednesday, June 30 council session.
If approved, however, it won't go into effect until September 30. Ryan's office made that clarification in hopes that several Safe Rest Villages will be created by that point, which HUCIRP can direct unhoused campers towards. Ryan's office intends to fund these new villages with dollars allocated by the federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), which City Council is expected to approve in mid-August.
The ordinance comes to council a week after Gov. Kate Brown's approval of a state bill that legalizes camping on public property. Senate Bill 3115 directs cities to establish "objectively reasonable" policies that allow unhoused people to occupy public property, if no alternative shelter exists. The city still needs to adjust its municipal laws to align with this legislation, an overhaul that will likely come before City Council in another ordinance.