Tents line a sidewalk in Portland's Old Town on Aug. 25, 2020. The number of tents around downtown Portland grew last year as the city limited cleanups of homeless camps during the pandemic.

The city of Portland announced Wednesday it plans to more aggressively clean, downsize or remove homeless encampments starting Monday.

After a year of avoiding or limiting encampment evictions, the city will act more strictly. The change comes after officials in charge of cleaning and removing street camping sites concluded their passive approach “has been ineffective,” according to a memo released by the city.

Instead of allowing extended time for campers to comply with rules — including separating tents by at least 6 feet and keeping sidewalks, building entrances and accessibility ramps clear for pedestrians — the city will instead immediately post an eviction notice if certain health and safety concerns are present. The office that wrote the new rules answers to Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler via his chief administrative officer and longtime ally Tom Rinehart.

“We have found that encampments return to a state of non-compliance within a matter of days, if not hours, depending on the location,” according to the memo written by city staff.

In a joint statement, all five city commissioners expressed support for the change, casting the stepped up evictions as good for people experiencing homelessness.

“These new protocols reprioritize public health and safety among houseless Portlanders and aim to improve sanitary conditions until we have additional shelter beds and housing available,” Wheeler and the rest of the City Council wrote.

“Bureaus are currently inventorying city-owned properties for viable shelter or camping sites.”

The city does not know how quickly or in what number new shelters on city property or elsewhere will open.

Tony Ngo, who has been living in a tent for six months in Old Town, said he believes the city should have more sanctioned campsites or tiny home villages available before kicking people off the sidewalk where they currently sleep. He said the cycle of tent removals is harmful to people who have nowhere else to go.

“I was asked to leave where I was sleeping because a business didn’t want me there, so they kicked me out because they said I was impacting tourism,” Ngo said. “But it is hard to find another place to go because wherever I go, they kick me out, so it is hard to figure out where I can sleep.”

The new rulesImmediate eviction notices will be posted at high-impact campsites which meet at least one of the following criteria, the city memo says:

Human waste is prevalent

Biohazardous materials, including needles, are present

City officials declare an encampment a fire hazard

Observers report repeated violence or criminal activity

The encampment is impacting a school

Tents and other materials are blocking sidewalks or impacting access to curb cuts or other accessibility measures

The city will prioritize evictions at encampments that have eight or more structures, a provision that would apply to many camp clusters around the city.

City officials and contractors will continue to give individuals 48 hours notice before an eviction, the memo says. However, the protocol change will eliminate the 24-hour compliance notice that typically would have come before the eviction notice. This means campers will have two days to pack up their belongings and move elsewhere before the city returns to remove any remaining personal belongings.

Additionally, the outreach team is no longer required to work with individuals at high-impact campsites before posting an eviction notice, said Heather Hafer, public information officer for the city department that oversees encampment clean ups. This means the city won’t always offer shelter or services prior to evicting campers, though they plan to continue sending their outreach team to many of the sites.

At low-impact campsites, the city will continue to provide garbage removal and offer shelter, supportive services and survival gear including coats and tents.

Melissa Warkentin, who sleeps amid a row of tents on NE Sixth Avenue near Davis Street, said the navigation team rarely offered comprehensive services to her or her houseless neighbors even before these new rule changes.

“It is hit or miss if you see (the navigation team),” said Warkentin, who has experienced homelessness for the past three years. “They pick and choose who they help, but mostly they just offer food, hygiene kits or access to showers. It would be more helpful if actual caseworkers regularly came out to help with housing.”

Since launching in January 2019, the outreach team has provided housing referrals to just 4% of the 918 individuals they engaged with, according to outcome data that was last updated in March. The team also helped 27% of those they talked to receive identification, 13% sign up for the Oregon Health Plan and 4% be admitted to a substance abuse treatment center.

From March through July of 2020, the city did not evict any encampments but offered trash removal and hygiene services based on recommendations by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Multnomah County Health Department. Reducing displacements was believed to lower the odds of COVID-19 transmission.

At the end of July, the city began evicting encampments again but fewer than officials had in the past. But the city says it has continued to fail to get campers to abide by safety and cleanliness measures “to a standard accepted as satisfactory.”

Warkentin believes more time should be spent enforcing cleanliness rather than evicting campers.

“If one tent among the many tents is messy, they will make us all move,” she said. “They will tell us two move two blocks up or they will tell us there is nowhere for us to move to, but then new people will just move into the spot where we were kicked out and they will be allowed to stay.”

The city released the new rules at 9 a.m.

Copyright 2021 Tribune Content Agency.

(1) comment

Smedley Doright

The mayor is clearly a classist, elitist snob.

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