Portland’s leaders detailed plans Monday, October 30, to get more police on the streets and fewer people sleeping on them.
After delaying the rollout of new restrictions on homeless camping, Portland will start enforcing itstime, place, manner ordinance on November 13.
During a downtown press briefing at Director Park Monday afternoon, Mayor Ted Wheeler said police will start responding to complaints of campsites in two weeks.
The city’s ordinance, approved in June, prohibits homeless sites in a multitude of public spaces between the hours of 8 am and 8 pm. Those who violate the ordinance will be given two written warnings before being cited with up to 30 days in jail and up to $100 in fines. It’s currently unclear which areas are off limits for resting. A map on the city’s website shows which areas are off limits, but fails to provide a list of space where unhoused people can safely rest during daytime hours.
The announcement came the same day the city's interim police chief, Bob Day, said current police officers from the central precinct will be temporarily patrolling the downtown area on foot.
“We’re going to be increasing our presence in the downtown core for a period of time, to try and reconnect with some of that ongoing relationship that is so vital to helping us understand how to better solve some of the challenges that we’re facing,” Day said.
The interim chief said he’s asked officers to get out and walk around the downtown area, starting with a couple of teams each day, until January, with the goal of reducing and deterring crime, improving community engagement, fostering transparency, and boosting morale among officers.
“I see this as an opportunity for our members to be encouraged, because I know they’re going to have positive experiences,” Day said. “They’re going to get a chance to really emphasize our respect and desire for greater community engagement.”
The bureau may finally have the staffing to be able to do the kind of outreach that Day envisions. Since last year, PPB has added more than 130 sworn officers to its ranks, with a total of 261 staffers being added since 2022, according to Wheeler.
Walking patrols will kick off in a couple of weeks, shortly before the start of the holiday season.
While applauding new restaurant openings and extolling the grand opening of the new $600 million Ritz Carlton downtown, Wheeler said he’s on a mission to put an end to people living on Portland’s streets, citing “hundreds of unsanctioned, sometimes dangerous, and often squalid” homeless encampments.
Wheeler reiterated his goal of “having no unsanctioned camping anywhere in the city of Portland,” but acknowledged the need to provide humane alternatives.
To get more people in shelters and Safe Rest Villages, Wheeler said the city has tapped Urban Alchemy to start doing outreach downtown. Urban Alchemy already holds the lion’s share of homeless services contracts in Portland. The company has three city contracts to manage the mass temporary alternative shelter site (TASS) in Southeast Portland, as well as two Safe Rest Villages. The California-based company has also been tapped to manage the next TASS site in North Portland, making it the largest homeless services provider contractor in the city.
But whether new anti-homeless enforcement will lead to lasting outcomes remains to be seen. Police say enforcing violations will largely be complaint-based, making it reactive, rather than proactive. The city has previously noted that not everyone accepts or wants shelter, for various reasons. It’s also unclear what system police will use to track those who’ve already been issued written warnings.
And while the city is increasing the number of shelter sites–announcing a new temporary alternative shelter site last week–it likely won’t be enough to match the number of beds needed for every person living unhoused in the city.
The legality of Portland’s new homeless camping ban has also been challenged. A class action lawsuit from a group of unhoused residents, filed by the Oregon Law Center, is still pending in court.
Still, Wheeler remains undeterred in his efforts to revitalize Portland’s downtown core, via police, beautification efforts like added decorative lighting, removing homeless people from the area, and the promise of major tax breaks for businesses that locate or re-commit to leasing space downtown and bringing employees back at least half time.
“One of the fastest things we can do to activate and improve our city is have employees come back to work in the downtown core,” Wheeler said.
Aside from economic incentives and decorative lighting, Downtown Clean & Safe, which holds a contract with the city for cleaning services, will also deploy Harris’s hawks to deter crows–and their droppings– from Portland’s downtown sidewalks and paved parks.
Portland’s police presence is multiplying
Aside from sworn police officers added to downtown patrols, the city also has more private security roaming its streets and parking garages than in prior years. Earlier this year, the city budgeted $6.3 million for private security in city-owned and Smart Park garages.
On the city’s Central Eastside, private security company Securitas was hired by the Central Eastside Together enhanced service district to provide patrols, as well as chaperone services to business owners and employees.
Additionally, a hospitality district was established in early October, centered around downtown hotels, which is now seeing police and private security patrolling near hotels in staggered shifts.
Both Day and Wheeler said Gov. Tina Kotek’s recent move to send Oregon State Police troopers to help patrol downtown Portland has been fruitful, citing nearly 200,000 fentanyl pills seized, 32 arrests and 600 citations related to drug crimes. That’s thanks to five OSP troopers doing bike patrols with Portland Police, but Wheeler said he’s asked the state for more troopers.
“Think what we could do with five or six or seven times that level of support,” Wheeler said.