Unhoused Portlanders at a campsite near Laurelhurst Park.
Unhoused Portlanders at a campsite near Laurelhurst Park. Alex Zielinski

People for Portland, a lobbyist group that's raised thousands over the past six months to protest the existence of homelessness in Portland, has unveiled a ballot proposal directly in line with its purported values.

In a press release shared Friday afternoon, People for Portland wrote that they will be lobbying to get a measure on the November ballot that would redirect millions in taxpayer dollars set aside for programs that help unhoused Portlanders get into permanent housing to build temporary homeless shelters—and penalize people who continue to sleep outside.

In 2020, voters in the Portland metro region approved a 1 percent tax on high-income households in Multnomah, Clackamas, and Washington counties in order to collect about $248 million per year to go directly towards supportive housing services. Supportive housing services an umbrella term for programs that help homeless people move into housing and maintain that housing with the help of free on-site social services, ranging from detox programs to medical care to child care. Since the new funding was first distributed to counties in summer 2021, the money has gone toward opening new low-income housing programs, covering rent vouchers, and uplifting programs that help people with mental illness retain housing.

People for Portland have long argued that the funds aren't working quickly enough to address the region's visible homeless crisis, instead pushing local leaders to crack down on public camping. The ballot measure the coalition unveiled Friday would do just that.

The group's press release says that the measure would do four things:

1. Dedicate at least 75 percent of the supportive housing tax to create emergency shelters "until the supply of shelter beds meets or exceeds demand"
2. Prevent cities from receiving supporting housing tax funds unless they enforce anti-camping policies
3. Require an outside audit of the supportive housing tax spending
4. Prevent financial conflicts of interest on the supportive housing tax oversight board

The ballot measure would also allow members of the public to sue the city for not upholding this criteria.

In short, the measure would unravel the work of the supportive housing service tax—only a year into its rollout—and put funds towards building short-term shelters and criminalizing the region's unhoused population.

People for Portland said the measure is informed by a December 2021 poll they conducted across the metro region, that found voters were interested in these ideas. The proposal also echos concerns raised by the local business community and its ally in City Hall, mayoral aide Sam Adams. Adams has previously suggested passing a ban on Portlanders camping in certain parts of the city, as well as creating three massive shelters to hold 3,000 homeless people, staffed by members of the National Guard. Mayor Wheeler has not approved these measures, instead introducing softer policies that prohibit camping near busy streets and streamlines regional homeless services as a whole.

The measure's short-term focus clashes with what housing experts and actual unhoused people say would help the region's homeless community move into longterm housing. In early March, a group of homeless advocates, unhoused Portlanders, and other affordable housing leaders gathered to push back on the city's interest in homeless shelters and camping bans, instead emphasizing the need for housing. The group established the "3,000 Challenge" to inspire the community to help move 3,000 Portlanders into permanent housing by the end of 2022. Organizers noted that this challenge is reliant on the supportive housing services funds helping open and maintain new affordable housing options for unhoused people.

The new ballot measure's success could undermine this goal, if not shut down current housing programs funded by the supportive housing tax.

People for Portland said their draft measure was submitted to Metro Friday. Once accepted, the group will need to collect 51,000 signatures in support to ensure the proposal lands on the November ballot.

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