Portland City Council delays funding homeless campuses
The Portland City Council postponed voting on the $27 million "down payment" on six large sanctioned homeless campuses on Thursday, Nov. 17.
The request was included in an ordinance sponsored by Mayor Ted Wheeler and Commissioner Dan Ryan. They said the campuses, which would hold up two 250 people each, are necessary to ban unsanctioned homeless camping.
The delay was not a surprise. Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty has repeated said she opposes the plan. All five council member were required to approve the spending on Nov. 17 because it was included in an emergency ordinance.
The final vote is now expected on Nov. 30. It should pass then. Commissioner Mingus Mapps has said he supports the funding, providing the third vote.
It is unclear when Commissioner Carmen Rubio stands.
Hardesty's opposition was an issue in her losing reelection campaign earlier this month. Her opponent, lawyer and businessman Rene Gonzalez, supports creating such campuses and requiring homeless campers to move into them. Polls show the majority of Portland voters listed addressing homelessness as their top political priority.
Thursday's vote was postponed after three hours of public testimony. Sixty people had signed up to testify, nearly all of whom opposed the funding saying it could be better spent on rent assistance, creating housing and converting other facilities to housing.
"These millions of dollars would be better spent addressing the root causes of homelessness and preventing further homelessness that we are bound to see with the state's allowed rent increase," said Daisy Quiñonez, who opposed the campsites.
The biggest amounts require nearly $13 million for the first year of operation; more than $4 million for the construction of the first three campsites; nearly $4 million for the impact reduction program that cleans up camps around the city; and $3.5 million for a navigation team that will conduct outreach for services for people who are sleeping outside. The proposals include money for private security at the campsites, maintenance and identifying the sites.
In defense of the plan, Ryan pointed to the diversion program as a part of the package intended to find criminal justice solutions outside of jail or fines, as well as the city's goal to create 20,000 affordable housing units in the next 11 years.
"Failure to act is not compassionate, we understand this may not be the perfect solution, but it is the step in the right direction for Portlanders," Ryan said.
Some key details of the plan remain unknown, including where the city would build mass campsites that would each shelter up to 250 people.
"The success of this work hinges on federal, regional, state and local partners coming to the table with their ideas, services and resources," Wheeler said. "It's going to take commitment from all of us to do the hard work that lies ahead."
In addition to the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners, Wheeler and Ryan's plan hinges on buy-in from several local agencies, including the Multnomah County District Attorney's Office, the Metro regional government and state leaders, among other agencies and stakeholders. Those organizations have yet to make any firm commitments of support.
Wheeler met with Gov.-elect Tina Kotek and Multnomah County Chair-elect Jessica Vega Pederson to discuss the spending package Wednesday.
"Both reiterated their support for (this package) and committed to working productively with my office and our entire City Council moving forward on these and other priorities," Wheeler said during Thursday's meeting. "I also look forward to continuing to develop relationships with new representatives within the Oregon state Legislature and meeting with Metro colleagues to further our partnership."
Last week, Ryan requested $7 million for the city's rental assistance and eviction defense fund, which has run out. Ryan hopes that money will be coming from the county as he said they are expected to vote to allocate $15 million countywide next week.
The $27 million was part of a larger Fall Budget Adjustment package that included $4 million to fund the first phases of the Portland Charter reforms approved by voters at the Nov. 8 election. The new charter revision will created a 12-member council elected from three geographic districts, and a mayor who manages city government with the help of a professional manager who oversees all bureaus.
A previous Portland Tribune story on the reforms can be found here.
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