PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Mayor Ted Wheeler didn’t take much input before dropping an emergency declaration to a camping ban in Portland, as city commissioners and several organizations said it came as a complete surprise.
The mayor’s office is using a program called “Safe Routes to Schools” that has never had anything to do with the issue of homelessness. It identifies walkways within a mile of a school to improve sidewalks, lighting and crosswalks.
Portland Public Schools and the Reynolds School District told KOIN 6 News they support this emergency ban.
“Our first priority is to make sure our students get to and from school in a safe manner, so we’re in accordance with this,” said Reynolds’ spokesperson Steve Padilla.
Commissioner Mingus Mapps is also supportive.
“We must make clear, enforceable rules regarding where camping can’t continue,” Mapps said. “In the interest of our kids traveling to and from school, tent camping should not be allowed in those travel zones.”
But organizations around it told KOIN 6 News “Safe Routes to Schools” never had anything to do with homelessness.
One advocacy organization, Northwest Pilot Project, worries this adds to what they say is the perception that homeless people are to be feared. They argue people who are homeless are just as likely to act out from things like addiction as housed people are.
What also frustrates these organizations is that their expertise — or others around the homelessness issue — was not tapped when the mayor made this decision.
“It is concerning, because we are the experts on the ground in addressing housing barriers and understanding where the challenges are to getting people the addiction treatment or mental health treatment or hygiene or rent assistance that they need,” said Northwest Pilot Project Director Laura Golino de Lavato.
The routes are 150 feet around schools, or any walkway within at least a mile of a school campus.
“That’s a lot of territory,” de Lovato said. “It’s a lot of area to cover.”
Several commissioners told KOIN 6 News they were not consulted about this emergency declaration.
“I have not heard or seen the mayor’s plan to implement the most recent emergency declaration,” Commissioner Dan Ryan said. “Me and my team have been at the table for several months to establish safety plans with school leaders.”
Wheeler’s office issued a statement last Friday but has not agreed to an interview to answer questions about declaring another emergency in Portland.