Mayor Ted Wheeler has outlined the preliminary costs of City Council’s plan to build sanctioned camping sites across the city in conjunction with a citywide ban on unsheltered homelessness.
At a council work session Thursday, he put a $27 million price tag on the start-up costs of the sweeping proposal, which pledges to create up to six camps with a capacity for 250 individuals, alongside increasing homeless services and affordable housing options. Here’s how that funding package breaks down:
$150,000 to evaluate city-owned property to potentially be turned into affordable housing
$3.5 million for one year of salaries and benefits for 50 homeless outreach workers employed by the city
$4.1 million to build the first three designated camping sites
$12.8 million to cover operational costs for the three sites for one year, including staff salaries
$750,000 for private security contracts to patrol the perimeters and surrounding neighborhoods of the three sites
$550,000 to maintain current homelessness-related city services
$1.5 million to expand staff operating the city’s current homeless service programs
$3.8 million for the Homelessness and Urban Camping Impact Reduction Program to continue operating for the rest of the fiscal year
Wheeler has asked council to fund this package through the Fall Budget Monitoring Process (or BMP, often called the “fall bump”), a yearly opportunity for commissioners to review and make adjustments to the annual budget passed in June. However, unlike last year’s BMP, the city isn’t flush with surplus dollars from city taxes on large businesses that did well during the pandemic. Per the City Budget Office, the city only has just under $30 million in excess funds to spend before the next budget cycle, which begins on July 1, 2023.
Wheeler’s budget package for the homelessness response plan isn’t the only item that needs financial support this fall. The BMP is usually reserved for “urgent and unforeseen” issues that cannot wait until the next year’s budget to be funded. The City Budget Office has identified two leading issues: A $9.2 million project to restore the structurally unsafe Kerby Fleet Maintenance Facility and a $6.5 million commitment to replace the Justice Center’s electrical service. Those costs, plus a number of smaller urgent funding requests from different bureaus and with the $27 million ask to cover the programs addressing housing and homelessness, bring the total ask up to $43.6 million—which far exceeds the $30 million available.
On Thursday, City Budget Director Jessica Kinard explained where the city could find those extra dollars to fully fund all requests: A combination of $3.7 million in unspent funding from the Portland Police Bureau (PPB), $1.12 from Prosper Portland, and $8 million from the city’s bucket of funding reserved for the Joint Office of Homelessness (JOHS).
Wheeler deflected when asked by City Commissioner Mingus Mapps if cutting $8 million from the city’s total $15 million set aside for JOHS would impact programming at the office, which is funded in collaboration with Multnomah County.
“That’s under discussion,” Wheeler replied.
Wheeler did make time Thursday to restate a call for financial support from Multnomah County, Metro, the state legislature, and the governor’s office to support the proposal to open sanctioned camps and ban unsheltered homelessness.
“We cannot lose momentum in addressing Portland's toughest problems: homelessness and community safety,” he said. “We will do our part at the city of Portland, but we cannot do it alone.”
Multnomah County invested $183 million in its latest annual budget to address homelessness, housing needs, and behavioral healthcare, but has not committed new finances to the city’s new proposal.
The complete homelessness plan passed by City Council last week will need significantly more funding to be fully realized. The city budget office has estimated that the proposed affordable housing laid out in the policy will cost nearly $10 billion to build, while the designating camping sites could demand $6.8 million annually to operate.
The city did not identify where the six planned camps would be built in Portland prior to voting on the plan. Yet Wheeler’s office is already meeting with neighborhood associations and business leaders to pitch the idea. In a Thursday evening virtual meeting with neighborhood association leaders and advocates for Portland’s designated business districts, Wheeler staffer Sam Adams fielded questions about the impact a site would potentially have in a community.
“I encourage you to act and react, and ask questions, and raise concerns today based on if your neighborhood or your business district is going to receive one of these things,” Adams said.
Adams was briefly joined by Wheeler, who thanked meeting attendees for supporting the proposal, which he said addresses the “greatest existential threat to the liveability and economic viability” to Portland.
“How would you suggest we work with you to partner with you and make this successful?” Wheeler asked the group.
Several attendees asked if the city would be providing incentives to neighborhoods who agree to house one of the designated camping sites, which could occupy up to 4 acres. Adams said that the city will offer security to patrol the area surrounding the sites 16 hours a day and that the city will help neighborhood associations and business districts hire private security for areas that could attract people “gathering” outside the sites’ perimeters. He also noted that neighbors will be provided with a 24/7 phone line to lodge complaints or questions about the site, or report so-called unsanctioned camping outside of the site’s boundaries.
Others pointed to management and safety problems that currently exist within the city-funded Safe Rest Villages (SRVs), which are run by nonprofit contractors and are much smaller than the proposed camping sites. Adams said the new camping sites would not have the same problems SRVs face because the city will pay its staff better wages.
Adams plans on holding additional meetings with neighborhood and business groups to discuss the planned camps.
Portland City Council will hear public comment on Wheeler’s funding proposal for the camps and vote on it and other BMP requests next Thursday, November 17, at 2 pm.