PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Mayor Ted Wheeler announced Friday that the current emergency declaration in place banning homeless camps near high-crash corridors will now extend to designated safe walking routes used by school-aged children.
The declaration bans camping along “priority routes to and from schools” and within 150 feet of school buildings. Along with that, homeless sweeps will reportedly prioritize areas around schools with an intent to keep those areas clear and safe for children walking to and from school.
With limited resources and back-to-school season around the corner, Wheeler said the city needs to prioritize the safety of children. Wheeler noted children, specifically those in elementary and middle school, are a vulnerable group that could be harmed by trash and biohazards that are often found near homeless camps.
“School-age children should be able to walk, bike, and ride buses to get to and from schools without potentially dangerous hazards as a result of encampments, including trash, tents in the right-of-way, biohazards, hypodermic needles, and more,” Wheeler said.
Primary Investment Routes, which were established through Portland’s Safe Routes to School Program, will no longer allow camping under this declaration. These routes were identified as part of a program funded by a 10-cent gas tax and Heavy Vehicle Use Tax voters passed in 2016.
The mayor’s office says their impact reduction program and other city bureaus will help notify people living along those routes of the change and help them access shelter services.
Some parents told KOIN 6 News they do not think this action was necessary.
Portland-area parent Jack, said his kids aren’t old enough for school yet, but he does not think the mayor’s actions will help keep kids any safer than they are now.
“It doesn’t seem like a solution to the problem,” Jack said. “They’re going to see camps anywhere they go… I don’t know what the difference is.”
On the other hand, some neighbors told KOIN 6 News they have had issues with homeless campers — including a man who found piles of trash in his yard and said a homeless person recently kicked his door repeatedly.
Another woman who lives near a school told KOIN 6 News this should have been done years ago.
This emergency declaration expands the mayor’s previous emergency declaration ban on homeless camping near dangerous roads.
In early February, Wheeler signed an emergency ban on homeless camps near roads with high amounts of crashes. That declaration was prompted by a report the Portland Bureau of Transportation released that said in 2021 the city saw its highest number of traffic deaths since 1990.
Emergency declarations grant the mayor the power to control city policy without resistance. These declarations last for two weeks but can be reinstated indefinitely.
Details on which routes will be impacted by the emergency declaration can be found here.
KOIN 6 News’ Liz Burch contributed to this report.