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News / Northwest

Portland OKs new homeless camping rules that threaten fines or jail in some cases

Ordinance takes effect immediately, mayor's office says

By Associated Press
Published: May 8, 2024, 4:35pm

PORTLAND — Homeless people who camp on public property in Portland and reject offers of shelter could be fined up to $100 or sentenced to up to seven days in jail under new rules approved unanimously by the City Council on Wednesday.

When shelter is not available, the same penalties apply for blocking sidewalks, using gas heaters or starting fires, or having belongings more than 2 feet (0.6 meters) outside of tents.

The ordinance takes effect immediately, and enforcement is set to begin in the coming weeks, Mayor Ted Wheeler’s office said.

“Addressing the issue of unsheltered homelessness in our city is a complex and urgent matter, and I believe this ordinance represents a significant step forward in our ongoing efforts to manage public spaces effectively,” Wheeler said in a statement.

Those who accept offers of shelter won’t be cited, according to Wheeler’s office. For those who are cited, the courts will determine whether to waive fines. The ordinance says it encourages diverting people to assessment, emergency shelter or housing instead of jail.

The mayor’s office said the new rules seek to comply with a state law that requires cities to have “objectively reasonable” restrictions on when, where and how people camp in public. A previous, stricter version of the ordinance that banned camping during daylight hours, at risk of fines or jail time, has been put on hold by a judge as a lawsuit challenging the measure filed by advocates on behalf of homeless people makes its way through the courts.

The measure comes as Portland and other cities across the U.S. West struggle to address a growing number of homeless encampments. Many officials say they need to be able to manage encampments to keep streets safe and sanitary, while advocacy groups say people shouldn’t be criminally punished for lacking housing.

The U.S. Supreme Court, after hearing a case brought by the small Oregon town of Grants Pass, is weighing whether cities can punish people for sleeping outside when shelter space is lacking. It’s the most significant case before the high court in decades on the issue and comes amid record homelessness nationwide.