Hales to PPB: ‘Your hands aren’t tied, do your job’

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PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Many people want to know why more isn’t being done to curb Portland’s homeless problem. When asked about the issue, some city leaders say the mayor’s camping policy is getting in the way.

On Tuesday, Mayor Charlie Hales’ office invited leaders from several different bureaus to discuss ways to deal with the problem in spots that belong to Portland Parks & Recreation and the Bureau of Environmental Services.

Agencies have repeatedly told KOIN 6 News they’re hampered by Hales’ homeless policy, specifically the One Point of Contact system to report livability issues with camping and transients. That one point of contact is the mayor’s office.

People who call police for help dealing with the homeless in spots like the Springwater Corridor say they’re told there’s only so much local law enforcement can do, despite existing laws against things like drug use, public camping and littering.

“Those are already laws that are set in place,” Rebekah Spinnett, who lives in the Lents neighborhood said. “But the police officers are just like, ‘we can’t do anything, we’ve been asked not to enforce the existing laws on the Springwater Corridor.'”

Portland Mayor Charlie Hales, July 13, 2016 (KOIN)

On Wednesday, the mayor forcefully opposed those sentiments by saying it’s not true the “hands off policy” makes it harder for police to deal with the homeless.

“Nobody’s hands are tied and if anybody says that, tell them you heard it directly from the mayor: Your hands aren’t tied, do your job,” Hales said.

In an email, Portland Police Sgt. Pete Simpson said the simple answer is Hales hasn’t given police any specific “marching orders” regarding incidents with the homeless.

“The more complex answer is that officers called to address the challenges of homelessness, realizing that there is no immediate law enforcement ‘fix’ to the particular issue, certainly could be saying things like ‘hands are tied’ and such due to the overall philosophy regarding camping,” Simpson wrote.

Camper Otis D. Britton said he’s seen a stepped-up police presence along the Springwater Corridor, but not necessarily increased enforcement of laws.

“If something happens out there, they need to be here,” Britton said.

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