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Published on April 23, 2024
Portland Mayor Presents New Camping Ban Proposal Amid Homelessness Policy ChallengesSource: Office of Mayor Ted Wheeler

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler is gearing up to defend his updated camping ban proposal at Wednesday's city council meeting. According to KGW, the revised ordinance is a response to legal challenges faced by the city over a previous version. It comes amid the U.S. Supreme Court deliberations on a case that could significantly impact camping bans nationwide. Wheeler's plan would slap a $100 fine or impose a week-long jail sentence on homeless individuals who reject an offer for available shelter space.

Previously, Portland had put into effect a daytime camping ban, halted following a lawsuit initiated by the Oregon Law Center on behalf of the homeless population. Slated to commence in July 2023, the ordinance was delayed after the lawsuit prompted a Multnomah County judge to halt its enforcement. With the case of Grants Pass v Johnson recently heard by the Supreme Court, as reported by KOIN, Wheeler's proposal seeks to introduce a more resilient framework in anticipation of further legal and political challenges. Claiming the city's streets, Portland's current policy forbids campers from public parks, schools, or camping during the daytime.

The legal conflict is grounded in Oregon's House Bill 3115 from 2021, necessitating that local ordinances on public property camping should include "reasonable time, place and manner rules". This has been a sticking point in crafting the city's approach to managing homelessness. In light of this, Wheeler maintains that his ordinance is designed to withstand legal scrutiny by tying penalties to the availability of shelter space. "What we envision is that we offer people shelter or assistance; if that shelter or assistance is not available — in other words, we don't have adequate shelter — people would still be required to abide by the manner restrictions listed in this ordinance," Wheeler told a virtual news conference via KGW.

In a wrinkle to the ongoing policy saga, City Commissioner Rene Gonzalez threw a wrench into the proceedings with a counterproposal that looks to impose harsher penalties and centralize homelessness policymaking under the mayor's office. Not letting the city council have any input, the move was controversial and complicated Wheeler's efforts to implement his vision for Portland's homelessness strategy. Meanwhile, city attorney Robert Taylor has expressed optimism, according to an interview obtained by KOIN, stating that he believes the new plan is legally robust.