PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Five resolutions were discussed at Wednesday’s city council meeting, including what Mayor Ted Wheeler calls a “moonshot affordable housing plan,” asking the state of Oregon to help fund the construction of 20,000 new affordable units by 2033.
Wheeler says his goals with this plan include creating more employment options for homeless people, improving access to mental health and substance abuse recovery services incentivizing homeless people with criminal records to enter a diversion program.
He is also offering to expunge low-level offenses in exchange for moving off the street and prioritizing the city’s budget towards affordable housing while requesting help from Multnomah County, the state, and the federal government.
Wheeler argues a city-wide camping ban is necessary for all these resolutions to work.
The plan calls for large-scale sanctioned campsites to be opened across the city for people to move to.
Enforcing the camping ban would happen 18 months after three mass camps would be set up-125-500 people each, with meals, bathrooms and social services. There is no word on where these camps would be located, and who would operate them.
Hundreds of people signed up to testify at the meeting, including neighborhood association leaders and non-profit organizers.
Old Town Community Association Chair, and business owner, Jessie Burke said “I’m here today not just to offer my unwavering support for the plans proposed by Mayor Wheeler and Commissioner Ryan from an economic perspective but also from a leadership perspective. Because a decision is better than no decision.”
“Creating sanctioned areas is something that many of us who have been involved in this issue for years now have been advocating for,” added Stanley Penkin, Pearl District Neighborhood Association President. “So, I’m glad to see the mayor taking some really bold and assertive action to move in that.”
Those living without a home, including Barbra Webber, also testified.
“Put yourselves in our shoes, really put yourself in our shoes. Would you want to live with another hundred and twenty-five people right next to you? It’s not going to be safe, the crime isn’t going to go away,” Webber said.
While a clear consensus was not reached during the meeting, for those in opposition to the plan, Mayor Wheeler said “this may not be appropriate for everybody, but for some people it might be. This might be their way off the streets…We can’t connect people to services when we have 800 camps spread out over 146 square miles but with fewer sites like this, we would at least have a fighting chance.”
The hot-button issue in the plan most people were commenting on calls for removing campers if they don’t leave willingly after being offered a choice of indoor and outdoor shelter options. The mayor wants a diversion program for the homeless if they refuse to leave city streets. Instead of facing criminal charges, they could choose to participate in drug or mental health services but would have to move off streets and sidewalks.
The mayor has said he needs state county and federal dollars for this all to happen. However, Wheeler said Wednesday that the city would commit $1 million for shelter providers.
The city council is also planning to hear more feedback from the homeless population ahead of the Nov. 3 council vote.
KOIN 6 News’ Joelle Jones contributed to this report.