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Too many of Portland's homeless residents are dying in these dangerous settings.

Allowing someone to reside in a tent within a few feet of a freeway or heavily trafficked street is unsafe and inhumane.

Now, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler also has tragic statistics to support his Feb. 4 emergency order banning such encampments next to freeways or high-crash streets. Wheeler's decision about these hazardous roadside camps came within two days of the release of a Portland Bureau of Transportation report containing a set of appalling facts. In 2021, 19 homeless people died in motor vehicle accidents that involved pedestrians. That was 70 percent of all pedestrian fatalities and 30 percent of all the traffic-related deaths in the city for the year. And as 2022 gets under way, the toll is growing larger: Four homeless pedestrians were killed in January alone.

Portlanders have watched in dismay over the past two years as homeless camps exploded in number. Of particular concern were tents pitched in the rights of way of some of the busiest streets and freeways in the city. The all-too-obvious danger comes from motorists who veer off the street, from houseless people wandering into the roadway and from shopping carts and other belongings spilling over into lanes of traffic.

Wheeler now is saying these camps will be moved to safer locations, or the people living in them will be given alternatives for other, better types of housing. Close to 80 percent of Portland residents simply will say: "It's about time."

But the mayor's action is not without its critics. His statement on this matter had not yet left his lips when a coalition of homeless service and advocacy groups came out in opposition.

The 22 groups blamed the pedestrian deaths on reckless drivers and poor road conditions. They are correct that drivers have been behaving badly during these stressful past 24 months. However, pointing fingers at motorists will do nothing to make it safe to camp next to traffic lanes carrying tens of thousands of cars per day. It's an indefensible practice that never should have been allowed in the first place.

Wheeler must stick to his plan, while also addressing the legitimate concern that relocating homeless camps does not in itself mean vulnerable people suddenly will find themselves living in more humane conditions. We agree with Commissioner Dan Ryan, who issued a statement supporting Wheeler's move while also saying Multnomah County — "who controls and manages services for unhoused Portlanders" — needs to increase shelter capacity "so that we can safely enact the declaration."

Wheeler and Ryan don't need to worry they are going against public sentiment. A recent Portland Business Alliance poll showed that 79 percent of respondents in Portland are in favor of requiring people who are currently living outside to sleep in shelters or designated camping locations.

Portlanders are compassionate by nature and sympathetic toward those who find themselves in dire circumstances. That's why they have approved billions of dollars to build housing and shelter beds, and to provide services to the unhoused population. But if anyone is confused about whether removing dangerously located homeless tents is the right thing to do, they should look at the camps along Interstate 205 and along other major roads and then ask themselves: Is this really the best we can do?


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