It's not obvious what this is just from looking at next week's Portland City Council agenda.


But that item above marks the quiet end to a nearly four-year legal fight over Portland's anti-camping laws—AKA, in some circles, the city's "camping ban." Why a "quiet" end? Unlike in a 2010 attempt at a settlement, which would have actually allowed some small-scale campsites, this version preserves the city's rules on camping, temporary structures, and park exclusion orders.

So what's the city giving up? It will pay a few thousand dollars to the plaintiffs, pay $37,000 in legal fees for the Oregon Law Center (which is donating the money to the Portland Housing Bureau to pay for rent assistance programs), and agree to clarify its definition of what constitutes a campsite and take better care of the property it confiscates when cleaning up a site or telling someone to move along.

Those points are meant to answer the main complaint raised by the plaintiffs in their class-action suit: That cops roust homeless Portlanders unnecessarily and sometimes trash their stuff when they do.

According to the city's 12-page settlement document, the city's definition of an "established campsite" so that it includes the words "a camp structure such as a hut, lean-to, tent, or other temporary structure such as carts and/or personal property." That's to help cops tell the difference between someone who's merely sleeping outside and not "camping."

And when it comes to handling property, the police bureau will now have to photograph, and keep a a written log of, whatever items its officers confiscate and put into storage. Officers also will have to videotape campsites, post-clearing, so anyone who had property taken can see what was saved and what was junked.

It's unclear whether this changes what's actually happening on the streets. Cops continue to turn a blind eye, depending on the officer and mood he or she is in, to small-scale campsites so long as they're out of the way or not causing anyone any harm or creating other problems. The problem has always been one of consistency—those on the streets can't rest easy knowing that just because one cop gave them a pass that another, or even the same cop on a different day, might not do the same.

The settlement does include a promise to train cops on its terms. So maybe that's a start. It also helps that the judge who approved the deal will also spend the next three years looking over everyone's shoulder.