On July 7, 2023, in Portland, Oregon, Mayor Ted Wheeler passed a new policy concerning the homeless population. They are now advised to not camp from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Those who do face potential jail time and/or a fine of 100 dollars—after being warned three times. To many, this action may seem intense; however, the city predicts that after a few months of following these new policies, the potential fine will no longer be necessary.
Since this policy began, the homeless population has been increasingly speaking up. They express concerns that they are already a part of the community who faces scrutiny, and that this policy will put them in further danger. In accordance with this concern, a group of homeless people have come together to file a class action lawsuit against this policy, declaring it is against the Oregon constitution. They further state that this policy is outrageous considering they believe that the lack of support Portland is providing them is the primary reason behind so many people being forced into the streets in the first place. In Portland, rent and living costs, as well as access to drugs are rapidly increasing. Now, with people being forced to stay off the streets at night, homeless shelters are predicted to become overcrowded, unhygienic, and increasingly unsafe. Currently, hospitals, shelters, policy stations and more are already filled to capacity, with resources stretched thin.
Many have expressed this policy as harsh; however, others have taken the other side of the argument, believing it to be an appropriate response to some statements in the community of facing daily discomfort from some people living on the streets. “I am not uncomfortable with people sleeping on the streets, when they aren’t affecting me,” a woman who lives off Hawthorne wrote. When asked if she had ever had an uncomfortable situation with the homeless in her neighborhood, she added, “In some cases, I have felt insanely unsafe around people sleeping outside of my house. I wish this wasn’t the case, because I acknowledge that they’re not in that situation on purpose, but at the same time I want to know that my uncomfortability is being addressed.” This appears to be the reality that comes with living in a city where houselessness is a prevalent issue. Portland contains up to around 2000 houseless people just in the Multnomah County area, according to a press release from the County.
Impact Reduction Portland Program, a team that is responsible for community services, confirmed that they were following the city’s campsite removal policy, stating, “That policy has changed our response to the new Times Place Manner rules. We haven’t been directed to make any changes to our process, either.” Time, place, and manner are rights protected by the first amendment concerning how many restrictions can be enforced surrounding when a person can assemble, where they can be in public spaces and how a person speaks up. The Impact Reduction Portland Program explained that they are not being pressured to take a stand by either the homeless population or city because of this policy.
When asked to give their opinions about the Homeless Camping Ban, Report PDX stated that: “The city is still in the phase of educating the public about these new rules.” Regardless of whether the policy affects volunteers, it is sure to greatly impact neighboring families, police, healthcare workers, and most of all members of the homeless population themselves. There is still much to be learned about the adjustments that will be made as a result of this policy, and only time will tell what the outcomes of this new ban will be.