Portland will begin removing 10 to 15 homeless camps weekly
Citing an "alarming" growth in encampments and trash, the commissioners at Portland City Hall have unanimously approved rules that will increase the removal of unsanctioned tents and makeshifts shelters.
A spokesperson for the Office of Management and Finance estimates the city will begin removing 10 to 15 campsites per week once the new standards take effect. It's a far cry from the pre-pandemic average of 50 sweeps a week — but an increase over the current average of five to seven removals weekly.
Local leaders stressed that the work to be done by the city's Homelessness and Urban Camping Impact Reduction Program will continue to center "the inherent dignity of all Portlanders, whether housed or unhoused."
"These new protocols reprioritize public health and safety among houseless Portlanders and aim to improve sanitary conditions until we have additional shelter beds and housing available," Mayor Ted Wheeler and commissioners Jo Ann Hardesty, Carmen Rubio, Mingus Mapps and Dan Ryan said in a joint statement.
In March, the city hauled off 818,560 pounds of garbage from "high impact" camps, a 60% jump from the half-million pounds collected monthly in 2019. In 2020, the monthly average rose to 650,000 pounds, and some have even suggested a new moniker for the trash-strewn city: dumptown.
Lucas Hillier, HUCIRP manager, says the agency has received continued reports of trees being cut down for fires and building materials in natural areas, particularly at Big Four Corners, Cross Levee, Columbia Slough Trail, Foster Flood Plains, Beggars Tick and in the Brookside Natural area.
Along Peninsula Crossing, campers have been driving their cars to the campsite and setting fires, despite warning and outreach from authorities, Hillier said. A camp at Northeast 60th and Prescott Street routinely blocked sidewalks for weeks, preventing those with mobility issues from reaching a nearby grocery store and pharmacy, he added.
"We have found that encampments return to a state of non-compliance within a matter of days, if not hours, depending on the location," he wrote in a May 19 memo. "Outreach providers have found that individuals experiencing homelessness are less likely to accept a shelter referral if encampments are allowed to remain in place."
No camps were removed in Portland between March and July 2020, as officials mulled how best to respond during the incipient COVID-19 pandemic. Since then, crews have only removed outposts with eight or more structures, those that block sidewalks, transit stations or entrances and those with confirmed reports of serious criminal activity.
Beginning Monday, May 24, campsites will be eligible for removal 48 hours after an eviction notice is posted if:
• They are a source of untreated sewage, which increases the risk of a Shigella or Hepatitis A outbreak;
• They present a public health risk due to biohazards;
• They are deemed by firefighters as posing an "extreme" fire risk;
• They are linked to verified reports of violence or crime;
• They are blocking mobility access after repeated warnings; or
• They are disrupting schools.
City bureaus are creating an inventory of government-owned property that may be viable for shelter or sanctioned camping sites under the recently approved Shelter to Housing Continuum ordinance that passed the City Council in late April.
"Once complete, that inventory and these protocols will enable us to act more quickly and safely as future camps establish and grow," the City Council members said.
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