PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Enforcement of the City of Portland’s controversial camping ban was originally slated to start on Monday, but for now, the courts have put a pause on it. However, the community remains divided on what steps to take next with the homelessness crisis.
On the front steps of City Hall, community members called on city leadership to find alternative solutions to the Time, Place, Manner Camping Ordinance passed over the summer, serving as a ban on unsanctioned camping during the day and in certain places.
“Have you ever heard of people saying for a humanitarian crisis we need to put people in jail? It doesn’t really match and our approach to houselessness has been fractured, ill-advised with non-profit agencies handling the funds,” Peggy Zebroski with Stop the Sweeps PDX said. “What could you do with $50 million? How many years of apartment dwelling could you get for that? So the approach is all wrong.”
Last week, a judge ruled that the ban can’t currently be enforced, with an ongoing lawsuit alleging that banning in place would be cruel and unusual punishment because there’s nowhere for them to go.
City leaders say the court didn’t make it clear why they were pausing enforcement and that the city is filing a request Monday for the court to clarify their decision, adding that the city’s ordinance follows state law.
“It’s unclear whether they’re basing it on the constitutional claim or on the statutory claim. The city studied for months, frankly, from my vantage point, way too long, to evaluate what was a reasonable response to the Oregon statute that mandates we have a reasonable restriction as to time place manner,” Portland City Commissioner Rene Gonzalez said. “After months of evaluation, staff came forward with a proposal that’s in line and frankly less strict than a lot of our suburban neighbors. We took months to roll it out, communicate to service providers, communicate to people on the street. We jumped through every hoop possible to make this easily understood for ordinary folks including those on our streets.”
The Portland Police Association, the police union, says in recent months, officers want a clear mandate about what’s expected on their end, while also being concerned that many would be calling them to make arrests.
“The concern a lot of law enforcement officers in our city had was are we going to get a bunch of calls with community expectation that we’re just going to come through and arrest anybody and that is not what this was about. What we’re looking for is giving people options, giving people places to go but also focusing on when people just absolutely refusing to move from a place they shouldn’t be, that we have tools to kind of abate those issues because the community has been very frustrated about the lack of action and lack of ability for police officers to act in these circumstances,” Portland Police Association president Aaron Schmautz said. “It is continually frustrating for most police officers that as electeds, as different people discuss what we want to accomplish, that we continue to have this push and pull. There’s a lot of people in our city that are being impacted by these decisions on both sides.”
Those opposing the ordinance say the camp sweeps aren’t stopping, even if there are no citations or tickets, and they would rather see better options like enough shelter beds or housing across the board.
“The city and the county both need to look at more options for how to deal with this problem instead of trying to just sweep it under the rug, because, again, you can’t get rid of people. They’re not going anywhere,” Michael Moore with Stop the Sweeps PDX said. “It has never worked in the past and it’s not going to work now.”
The pause on enforcement will last until the court decides otherwise or if a final decision is made with the lawsuit.