We want to restate our stance on this issue that we have held since late last year, the banning and criminalization of homelessness will only prolong the City of Portland's homelessness problem not solve it.
June 14, 2023
On June 7th, the City of Portland voted to pass camping restrictions that ban camping during the daytime. We are deeply saddened by this decision and have concerns for the safety and well-being of people experiencing homelessness, especially Black people. We want to restate our stance on this issue that we have held since late last year, the banning and criminalization of homelessness will only prolong the City of Portland's homelessness problem not solve it.
For the City of Portland to enforce camping restrictions that people “may camp between the hours of 8 p.m. and 8 a.m.” then by 8 a.m. the next morning “must dismantle the campsite and remove all personal property from the campsite until 8 p.m.” is unrealistic to the conditions and daily routines for people experiencing homelessness. People with no place else to go will now have to pack up and move their belongings each day in order to avoid fines. People with disabilities, people who are elderly, and others who simply can’t physically move all their belongings and sleeping spaces each morning will now have to fear and endure the added stress of being fined. For many people, the daytime is the only time it is safe to sleep – sleeping at night increases the risk of sexual assault and other crimes. Our concern is that these camping restrictions will create more barriers to stability for people who are at extreme risk: physically, emotionally, financially, and mentally.
We understand that changes had to be made to comply with House Bill 3115, but the City has been aware of this, and the efforts to furnish human-centered solutions appear to have fallen through the cracks. We agree with Commissioner Carmen Rubio, “it is not clear if this ordinance maintains our prior commitment not to criminalize people who are homeless.” We believe prior commitments by the Mayor and Commissioners are not being upheld and these camping restrictions will cause further harm and trauma to its most vulnerable residents.
Homelessness is traumatic. We know that the stresses of homelessness make individuals more susceptible to becoming victims of crime including domestic and sexual violence. We know that homelessness itself negatively impacts mental and behavioral health. These compounding problems cannot be effectively addressed while a person is experiencing the trauma of homelessness and/or being forced into further states of transience. The criminalization of homelessness will cause more trauma and will disproportionately impact Black Portlanders.
For Black people, encounters with law enforcement and the criminal justice system are traumatic, and in some instances can sadly lead to death. Studies and statistics show that Black people are disproportionately affected by criminalization. “Nationally, 40% of all homeless people are Black, though they are 13% of the U.S. population. They are more likely to be homeless because they are more likely to be poor, unemployed, or earn lower incomes than whites.” Recent studies in Oregon have shown that “more than half of arrests police made in 2017 were of homeless people, who constituted 3% of the population at most” and “Portland officers arrested Black people at higher rates than whites”. In 2017-2018, “it was concluded that homeless Black individuals were nearly four times more likely to be arrested by a Portland police officer than houseless white individuals". It is inequitable to charge and arrest people experiencing homelessness with criminal trespass or disorderly conduct when they have nowhere else to go or are experiencing a mental health crisis.
These camping bans and restrictions create a streets-to-prison pipeline for people experiencing homelessness and this will significantly impact Black people who are already victims of the prison pipeline.
We are troubled that the City would approve camping bans and restrictions without having the necessary tools, resources, shelters, and support in place to help people experiencing homelessness. It is unreasonable for a government to refuse to provide adequate resources, services, treatment, and housing, and then criminalize people forced into homelessness as a result. We urge the City to follow the lead of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, “which is pushing communities that are responding to homelessness with encampment sweeps and laws criminalizing outdoor sleeping to invest in other solutions such as funding for housing choice vouchers and permanent supportive housing resources.” Criminalizing homelessness is not the answer, it only harms people in crisis, especially Black people.
The city council has committed to view policy choices through a lens of racial equity; however, a racial equity analysis was plainly absent from this policy. We ask the Council to reconsider the camping restrictions and to work collaboratively with the community to work towards a solution that will not cause greater harm to those who need safety, not sweeps.
Urban League of Portland
Portland, OR 97227
 Bloomberg, White House Hopes New Funding Will Deter Clearing Homeless Encampments, 2022.