Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler talked with Think Out Loud Monday about City Council’s vote last week to enforce its street camping ban and create mass campsites where people can get shelter and services. The plan would create six large city-approved camping sites, build 20,000 units of affordable housing, and allow Portland leaders to prohibit unsanctioned camping on city streets.
Wheeler said a lot of public conversations have been about compassion for people on the streets, but he says compassion is needed for residents all across the city.
“What about the people with disabilities who can’t navigate our sidewalks? What about small business owners that are closing shop because their employees and their customers don’t feel safe? What about neighborhoods that are concerned about livability and litter and environmental damage and other considerations?”
Wheeler said the plan will require significant financial support from Multnomah County, Metro, the state and the federal government, particularly to help pay for the affordable housing units.
“There’s plenty of asks for everybody, and I realize I don’t control everything. But if people understand that there’s a housing component, a mental health component, a substance abuse component, a safety component, a livability component, we’ll have to do our part at the local level here in Portland,” he said. “But we need everybody else to work with us to address what Oregonians have said is overwhelmingly their number one priority: Address homelessness.”
Wheeler said the six camps will not be rolled out with their full 250-person capacity, but rather will build incrementally to that level. He said that, most importantly, the city must be able to deliver services to the people in these campsites.
“This both creates some opportunity for the community to see some improvements in the public right of way along with a humane approach to try to connect people with services,” said Wheeler. “And I think that’s the fundamental difference [to this approach].”
Wheeler said the city has secured agreements with one or more providers to run these camps, but he could not publicly identify the organization or organizations yet.
Listen to the full conversation with Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler: