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Portland Mayor's 'Safe Sleep' Homeless Camping Policy Ends


A homeless camp in Beggar's Tick Wildlife Refuge.

A homeless camp in Beggar’s Tick Wildlife Refuge.

Phoebe Flanigan/OPB

Portland Mayor Charlie Hales says that his policy allowing homeless people to pitch tents on public property citywide is ending immediately, effective Aug. 2.

At the same time, the mayor indicated the city is moving forward with plans to create sanctioned outdoor tent cities or shelters managed by nonprofits.

It’s a major reversal of a policy that was celebrated by service providers and advocates who work with homeless people, but caused livability issues in some neighborhoods and prompted business groups and neighborhood associations to sue the city.

In a press release explaining the decision, Hales said the policy, known as the “Safe Sleep Guidelines,” was never intended to allow long-term camping but acknowledged that it was confusing.

“[P]eople believed that camping was made legal, and outreach workers and law enforcement struggled to educate people about the difference between a safe night’s sleep and unsanctioned camping. Houseless people, housed people, and the Police Bureau indicated that the guidelines were not practicable,” the release reads.

Hales announced in February that Portland police would not arrest homeless people for trespassing on public property in violation of the city’s camping ban, because the city lacked shelter beds. He made the change without a vote from the City Council, citing his authority as the city’s Police Commissioner and his powers under the State of Housing Emergency the council declared in 2015.

Hales now says Portland police will enforce the city’s camping ban in areas where camping is making neighborhoods less livable. Homeless people will be given at least 72 hours advance written notice before the city cleans up camps.

The press release does not clarify how often police will conduct sweeps. It suggests the mayor will continue to permit homeless people to camp in some situations and that police will have discretion as to when to enforce the law.

“Police will continue to use compassion in enforcement, recognizing that the city doesn’t have enough shelter beds for everyone, and that some people have to sleep outside,” the release states.

housing homeless Portland Oregon Charlie Hales

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