Protesters hold signs calling to "Protect unhoused neighbors"

Portland Officially Bans Daytime Homeless Encampments

Recently, Ted Wheeler, the current (and oft-maligned) mayor of Portland, signed off on an ordinance prohibiting unhoused people from camping in public spaces during the hours between 8 AM and 8 PM. Outside those hours, houseless campers will also be subject to stricter rules regarding how, and where, they camp.

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The ban will not be officially enacted until next month, and even then, Wheeler alleges that it will be gently phased in. Local business owners were immensely in support of this bill, as they feared that the presence of tents and encampments on sidewalks deterred customers, as well as potential future businesses that could come to the city. This ordinance will also make it more difficult for stolen bike and car parts to be stripped and distributed in broad daylight.

However, many were outspoken against this ordinance for a variety of reasons. Civil rights attorneys were concerned that it would clash on a federal and state level, which would then implicate the city at large and open it to legal battles down the line. As well as this, many houseless advocates and people currently experiencing houselessness fought the bill for hours during a council meeting, stating that it was an unreasonable thing to demand. To pack up and move with no concrete destination in sight is a lot to ask of anyone, let alone an unhoused person in a city with few alternative resources at its disposal.

One such alternative is slated to be introduced next month: a city-legislated encampment that can house up to 250 people via “sleeping pods.” However, there have already been complications with the negotiating of these encampments, one such being that the Southeast Gideon Street encampment will be managed by Urban Alchemy, a non-profit with a plethora of lawsuits against it, including allegations of sexual abuse. This begs the question, if these encampments ultimately prove to be unhelpful alternatives, what are the unhoused left with? The city only has 2,000 shelter beds at its disposal, and most shelters are nearly at capacity each night. This results in nearly 4,000 unhoused people sleeping unsheltered. Moreover, unhoused women and mothers are frightened at the implications of being forced to sleep at night and move during the day, since nighttime is when they need to be the most alert to danger.

The only council member who opposed the bill was Commissioner Carmen Rubio, who attempted to introduce an amendment that would, at the very least, halt fines and jail time until the city opened more shelters. As well as this, she implored that the police be adequately trained regarding the new rules, and more importantly, that the current unhoused population be properly informed of the ordinance before any penalization occurs. And while Rubio had the support of civilians and activists in attendance at the council meeting, she ultimately received silence from her peers.

There’s a reason people are opposed to ordinances like these: They are optical band-aids with few concrete solutions in the long run. While the houseless crisis is a complex issue that merits close, critical examination, it ultimately must be solved with due consideration on the city’s side, and that consideration must never, ever forget its compassion. With this ordinance, it seems as though Portland has decided its best course of action is to recklessly charge forth, with little regard for the consequences should Plan B fall apart. Such callousness will put the unhoused at even more risk than before.

Commissioner Mingus Mapps went on record saying, “I see this ordinance not as an end but as a beginning. Portlanders are compassionate people and want folks to transition off the streets into programs and solutions that work.” Yet we struggle to see the compassion in an ordinance that will fine and jail people for just trying to survive in a city that refuses to provide sustainable alternatives.

(featured image: Mario Tama/Getty Images)


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Author
Madeline Carpou
Madeline (she/her) is a staff writer with a focus on AANHPI and mixed-race representation. She enjoys covering a wide variety of topics, but her primary beats are music and gaming. Her journey into digital media began in college, primarily regarding audio: in 2018, she started producing her own music, which helped her secure a radio show and co-produce a local history podcast through 2019 and 2020. After graduating from UC Santa Cruz summa cum laude, her focus shifted to digital writing, where she's happy to say her History degree has certainly come in handy! When she's not working, she enjoys taking long walks, playing the guitar, and writing her own little stories (which may or may not ever see the light of day).