Two days before new daytime restrictions on homeless camping in Portland are set to go in effect, the city has yet to release any maps or signage clarifying the rules.
The city is promising “phased in” enforcement of a new ordinance prohibiting campsites in public parks, on sidewalks, and along high-crash corridors, as well as within 250 feet of schools or child care centers, between the hours of 8 am and 8 pm. The ordinance takes effect Friday, July 7.
Fake signs emerge
Absent any signage or clarification from the city on areas off-limits for resting, unofficial, unsanctioned “No Camping” signage has cropped up.
Residents in Southeast Portland noticed small signs, mimicking parking signage, appeared near Southeast Martins Way and 47th Avenue in the Woodstock neighborhood. The signs appear to prohibit camping, citing a Safe Routes to School location, with the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) listed toward the bottom. An ODOT spokesperson confirmed the signs didn’t come from the state agency. The Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) also confirmed it hasn’t distributed any signs related to the ordinance.
This isn’t the first time homemade signs were placed as deterrents to homeless camping.
“While I don’t know the source of these particular signs, we have seen other instances of signs like these in the past that were also not official city signage,” Hannah Schafer, a spokesperson with PBOT, said Wednesday.
The city of Portland coordinates with ODOT to clear homeless sites along designated Safe Routes to School paths, but the signs spotted most recently in Woodstock appeared on a residential street near a Key Bank parking lot, not a school route.
Woodstock residents say they’ve seen the signs in their neighborhood before, discriminately placed near a community center and other cherry-picked sections of the neighborhood. Last year, BikePortland reported similar incidents of fake signs.
Enforcement won't be immediate
While enforcement is supposed to start off with written “warnings” before offenders face citations of up to $100 and the threat of jail time, it’s unclear how many unhoused Portlanders know of the new laws.
Over the last two weeks, the Mercury spoke with unhoused people living in three different quadrants of the city, none of whom had heard of the new ordinance.
City staffers say outreach and education will begin this summer.
“The Mayor's Office will be focused on a summer of education using a phased-in approach that emphasizes outreach and connection to services over criminal penalties,” Cody Bowman, communications director for Mayor Ted Wheeler, said Wednesday. “Through the summer, the City will work with the Street Services Coordination Center, non-profit providers, the Joint Office of Homeless Services, and other partners to educate people about the change with focused enforcement starting in the coming months.”
Even if the outreach is successful and police begin issuing citations later this year, it’s unlikely offenders will see jail time. The Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office, which operates the local jail, has previously said it won’t reserve jail beds for people whose only offense is violating a city ordinance. It could also prove tricky to mail citation notices to people living outside, who often don’t have a permanent mailing address.
As ordinance takes effect, nonprofits brace for impact
Shortly after the city’s adoption of the daytime camping ban, homeless advocacy groups said it would put more strain on nonprofits. Still, many scrambled to bolster their services.
The city’s news rules will effectively require unhoused people to pack up their sites each morning and find somewhere to go until 8 pm. Many of the city’s homeless shelters require occupants to leave during the day and come back in the afternoon or evening.
Last month, Rose Haven, a privately-funded day shelter and community center for women, children, and gender-expansive people, announced the launch of a new support group and the distribution of innovative sleeping bags called ShelterBags. ShelterBags are portable beds that roll up easily, much like a sleeping bag, but more lightweight and weatherproof, making them easy to pack up and carry.
Rose Haven staff say they ordered about 150 ShelterBags, and have distributed roughly a handful of them so far.
Katie O’Brien, executive director of Rose Haven, said the day shelter expects an uptick in need for services, but the site is already near capacity most of the time.
“We are really full right now. We are seeing 130 to 150 people a day, and if people are coming in with all their things, that gives us less capacity, not more," O'Brien said. "We’re trying to figure out how to pivot and respond to the need.”
Like many providers serving a vulnerable or unsheltered population, O’Brien is wary of Portland’s new daytime camping restrictions. Rose Haven staff has onsite advocates and mental health workers, but providing wraparound services gets complicated if someone’s stability is further threatened.
“The goal is to stabilize them and then connect them, but what happens when we have a ban like this, it’s like, where can they go, where can’t they go? And we haven't seen any maps or information from the city,” O’Brien said. “We all want people to be off the streets and living inside, and the problem is there just doesn’t seem to be a plan in place to support this.”