PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Mayor Ted Wheeler announced Friday he would sign an emergency ban on homeless camps near roads with high amounts of crashes following a Portland Bureau of Transportation report that said the city saw its highest number of traffic deaths since 1990.
The 1 p.m. press conference comes on the heels of PBOT’s Vision Zero Traffic Crash Report for 2021 which was released Wednesday. According to the report, 70% of the pedestrians killed in 2021 traffic crashes were homeless.
“Our most vulnerable Portlanders are disproportionately affected by traffic-related injuries and death,” Wheeler said. “These are devastating losses of life. These aren’t just statistics — these are our neighbors, our sons, our daughters, they’re members of our community.”
Wheeler said the city has seen unsanctioned camping in “clearly unsafe locations, sometimes jarringly close to roads and freeways.”
“You don’t need to be a traffic engineer to sense that that’s not safe,” he said. “Now, the traffic engineers confirm our instincts.”
Beyond banning camping along what has been deemed “high-speed corridors,” the emergency declaration also prioritizes these camps for sweeping and it enables city teams to prevent camps from returning.
When asked by reporters about where those who are homeless are supposed to go, Wheeler responded, “The answer I have is ‘somewhere safer.'”
Wheeler added the city has vacant beds in its shelters and is working to reserve more for those whose camps are cleared from the areas.
The PBOT report also revealed a sharp increase in the number of pedestrians killed by traffic incidents and a significant jump in the number of people who were killed while they were inside a vehicle during an incident.
“I’m not going to wait to act,” Wheeler said. “As mayor, I will use my executive authority to move us in the right direction in strategic ways like this emergency declaration.”
Wheeler said more executive actions would likely come “as quickly as possible.”
“We have to address this issue right now,” he added.
The mayor’s office said the declaration is expected to be signed at 3 p.m. Friday and will be effective immediately. In a Tweet sent Friday morning, however, Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty said she was only recently made aware of the ban through reports circulating prior to the mayor’s official announcement.
“I recently learned about potential Mayoral actions relating to camping bans from media reports. I can confirm that neither my office nor the Portland Bureau of Transportation was consulted in the development of these actions. I’m eagerly awaiting more details and an opportunity to discuss this with my Council colleagues. I will have more to say soon,” Hardesty said in the thread.
Commissioner Carmen Rubio also released a statement about the ban, saying “The traffic fatality data is clear and alarming, and it requires a response.”
“Over the coming days, as we learn more about how this will work from the mayor’s office, I intend to make sure that our efforts to reduce traffic fatalities also treat people with dignity and respect,” Rubio said. “These actions will naturally disrupt the lives of our houseless neighbors, and we cannot lose sight of those human impacts.”