People's Police Report
Shootings & deaths
Sweeps Continue Even As City Unveils More Relaxed Rules for Houseless Campers
The City of Portland continues to wage war on its houseless population, continuing to confiscate property and break up encampments while simultaneously relaxing some rules. The business community ignores the former and cries out against the latter.
On February 25, Portland police cleared a homeless group of up to 60 people that had been camped at the west end of the Steel Bridge. A resident said officers told him they were clearing the camp because they found weapons in some of the tents. Sgt. Pete Simpson, police spin doctor, said, "We are assisting for public safety reasons due to the criminal element that exists" (Oregonian, February 26). A spokesperson for Mayor Charlie Hales said the City received 49 complaints about the camp within a month through the City's One Point of Contact Campsite Reporting system, a phone, website and email dedicated solely to complaints about tent camps.
Another resident who had met with the mayor and his staff about maintaining the encampment said they felt betrayed and received only a 15 minute warning to leave their site on the morning of the sweep. Items they were unable to take away were thrown out.
Ironically, the cleared site sits next to a recently installed 52-foot, retrofitted cargo container designed for homeless people to store their belongings during the day. The container also has two bathrooms, secure trash bins for needles, and information kiosks. The container was not open at the time due to confusion over operations, but began serving people a few weeks later.
This raid came a few weeks after Mayor Hales announced a four part strategy on homelessness, including limited overnight tent camping. This plan Oregonlive called "controversial" (February 8, though the Feb. 10 print copy of the Oregonian removed that word) focuses only on short-term fixes that can be evaluated for six months and is separate from broader efforts to build more affordable housing.
The City's new rules state that overnight sleeping on city sidewalks will be allowed, provided that houseless Portlanders use only a sleeping bag and tarp, do not block the sidewalk, and do not exceed six sleepers in one location. Tents are not allowed on sidewalks. But tents will be allowed from 9 PM to 7 AM in certain locations, such as City-owned property that is not a sidewalk. The City plans to release examples of property where overnight-only camping would be allowed. The Mayor's plan includes the establishment of several City-sanctioned campsites that must be linked to a non-profit service provider. The City would designate property such as church parking lots where homeless Portlanders could legally camp in cars or RVs. Finally, the City is looking at three or four locations in the hopes of securing more temporary shelter space.
Mayor Hales' Chief of Staff Josh Alpert says the City's old strategy of conducting 15 to 20 daily sweeps hasn't been effective. By offering four clear options for where people can sleep each night, they think police can conduct more targeted enforcement.
But Portland Copwatch has talked with homeless people who either don't know the new policy or don't know where to go. To counter this, city interns are handing out cards titled "Portland Safe Sleep Guidelines" with the new regulations on them. But people still don't know where remnant city property is located. The City intends to develop a map.
On March 23 police raided an encampment at NE 7th and Flanders, with one officer wearing a ski mask. On April 1, following a shooting that resulted from a dispute between two houseless persons, police broke up another camp near SE 12th and Pine.
According to a March 16 Willamette Week piece, Portland is not the only city on the west coast grappling with how to deal with tent camps. In Eugene, city officials have permitted rest stops where up to 20 people can sleep in tents. It has also hosted 30 tiny houses at a site. Los Angeles police have been raiding camps for years and recently city officials changed regulations to make crack downs easier. When a formerly homeless man donated over 30 tiny houses on wheels to people living on the street, the City began seizing these tiny houses. Of course in Portland, we have Dignity Village and Right to Dream Too, wonderful models of self-governing homeless people. As so many of us know, the best way to solve homelessness is to give people homes. But is that too simple for city officials to figure out?
Right to Dream Too's planned move to the east side was delayed by a lawsuit from area businesses (Oregonlive, March 21).
On April 20, the Portland Business Alliance filed suit against the Mayor for his plan allowing limited camping.
Portland Copwatch is a grassroots, volunteer organization promoting police accountability through citizen action.