An ordinance restricting daytime homeless camping in public right-of-ways is expected to be introduced by Mayor Ted Wheeler at the May 31 Portland City Council meeting.
Wheeler’s ordinance would ban camping on public sidewalks, parks, docks, and within 250 feet of construction sites, schools, daycares, existing shelters, high crash corridors, and environmental overlay zones.
The restrictions would be in effect from 8 am to 8 pm, effectively requiring unhoused residents to dismantle their campsites and relocate during daytime hours.
In an informational session with media Thursday, May 25, Wheeler’s staff and a city attorney said the city’s current code doesn’t adequately address time, place, and manner restrictions on camping. The ordinance aims to align city code with House Bill 3115, which requires cities in Oregon to maintain “objectively reasonable” rules related to homelessness.
As written, the draft ordinance also seeks to crack down on sites attempting to assemble or sell “multiple bicycles, cars, or other parts.”
The proposed ordinance, which would go into effect July 1, lists a plethora of spaces where unhoused residents won’t be allowed to camp, but the ordinance stops short of identifying spaces that would be acceptable for sleeping.
Wheeler’s staff said enforcement will start with “outreach and education” and anyone in violation will first be given two written warnings. After that, police can fine and/or jail someone for up to 30 days if they fail to comply and refuse to accept placement at a shelter.
Under existing case law called out in the landmark Martin v. Boise ruling, local jurisdictions can’t sweep or penalize someone for being unhoused and camping, unless there is available shelter for them.
In Portland and Multnomah County, the homeless population far exceeds available shelter beds. The county lists roughly 1,540 sites or beds, including family shelters, but the latest data indicates there are more than 6,300 unhoused people in the county. Moreover, many shelters don’t allow pets or a large number of personal belongings, and many more don’t allow occupants to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol, despite city data that shows the majority of homeless residents have some form of disability or impairment which could include substance abuse.
Robert Taylor, an attorney for the city of Portland, said the city is still allowed to enforce restrictions on the time, locations, and manner of public camping, regardless of available shelter space.
In addition to heavily restricting the locations where camping is allowed, the draft ordinance would also ban fires and gas stoves for cooking and warmth.
City staff noted that if the ordinance is approved by City Council, enforcement would be “phased in.”
Wheeler said his goal is “to have enough shelter, housing, and treatment access available so that we can fully eliminate unsanctioned, unsheltered camping in Portland.” In a statement provided to media, the mayor urged a need for “workable, compassionate means” to connect people with services to get off the streets.
The ordinance will be reviewed by the council as a regular agenda item with public testimony.