PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Hours of public testimony were heard by the Portland City Council Wednesday evening over proposed changes to homeless camps, sparking debate from both sides.
The changes to Portland’s camping ordinance would come as the city says it’s to bring them into compliance with state law.
It was a contentious night in the council chambers as people made their pleas for or against the ordinance changes, prompting cheers and jeers from the audience at council members, as well as some who were giving testimony.
“For this, you should stop sleeping well if you have any conscience at all,” said Margaret Zebroski, who spoke against the ordinance. “For this, you should burn in hell.”
While there were many comments from both sides, it also appeared that an overwhelming amount of those signed up to speak were against the ordinance.
“We must house the unhoused together by any means necessary” and “it will make the situation worse” were just some of the comments by those against the ordinance. Meanwhile, “please ban unsanctioned camping” and “no one seems to care the most about the most vulnerable community at all, our children” were some of the comments made by those in support of the ordinance.
Nearly 200 people registered to speak on all sides of the debate around new changes to Portland’s camping ordinance. At one point early on, some shouted at the city council, prompting Mayor Wheeler to threaten to clear the chambers and move the hearing completely virtual, though that never happened.
“We’re not here to applaud, we’re not here to boo, hiss or heckle people, we’re here to listen to people’s perspective. He gave a good argument so let’s hear it. I will say again, if we have to go virtual, we’ll go virtual. It’s up to you,” said Wheeler, later adding, “Excuse me, once again, this is literally the last warning I’m giving and then we’re going to clear the chamber and we’re going to go virtual.”
The changes — designed to bring the city into compliance with state law — include measures like banning camping from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., no camping near schools or in city parks, and no blocking private homes or businesses. Repeat offenders would be subject to fines or even jail time.
Some speaking out against the changes make note of the time restrictions, telling the council that those who are unhoused often only sleep during daytime hours because they feel it’s safer.
“So many women and youth stay up all night to keep themselves safe,” one speaker told the council.
Some in support say the city is at a breaking point and having stricter rules in place would encourage more to seek out shelters.
“The ordinance before you provides incentive to get the chronically unhoused into shelters, possibly alternative ones where they’ll receive better services,” said one speaker in support.
The mayor says his office is looking into options like day shelters, but some who provide daytime meal services like Blanchet House say they’re at capacity and would need help from the city.
Wednesday’s meeting was strictly about public comment, but an actual vote on the ordinance isn’t set until next week. If approved, it would go into effect in one month on July 1,