Welcome to Camp Charlie!
Perhaps you fluffed up your sleeping bag and started evaluating potential campsites the moment you heard Mayor Charlie Hales is authorizing sleeping on sidewalks across Portland.
Now you can legally bed down on the tree-lined avenues of Laurelhurst, in view of the breathtaking sunset panoramas of Arlington Heights, and along the continental boulevards of Eastmoreland.
Of course, you didn't make such plans. Neither did the thousands of people with no choice but to sleep on the streets tonight.
But the mayor's new rules are no joke, either. They legalize urban camping to a degree rarely seen in major American cities.
Until now, sleeping outdoors in Portland meant getting rousted from a park or shooed out from under a highway overpass.
Last week, the mayor's office announced new rules that permit limited camping in Portland. Sleeping bags and tarps will be allowed on sidewalks between the hours of 9 pm and 7 am. You'll be allowed to pitch your tent on some city properties during those hours. (Maximum occupancy: Six people in any given spot.)
Park camping? That's still against the rules—but those are rules the parks commissioner, Amanda Fritz, has not always enforced.
The mayor's office also hopes to open 10 new homeless camps, allow car camping in church parking lots, and buy disaster pods for people to sleep inside.
Business owners and neighborhood associations have greeted this news with horror.
"This is not a safe or sustainable situation for anyone," says the Portland Business Alliance.
"Portland should be better than that," Chris Trejbal of the Overlook Neighborhood Association tells KGW-TV.
We set out last week to explore Portland's new urban campsites—and follow Hales' rules to their logical end.
We erected tarps on the sidewalks in front of the lawns of Hales in Eastmoreland and City Commissioner Nick Fish in Hollywood. (The current housing commissioner, Dan Saltzman, doesn't have a sidewalk in front of his house.) We laid out our sleeping bags in the city park next to Fritz's Southwest Portland home. For good measure, we pitched a tent on the rolling slopes of Portland's Yosemite, Mount Tabor Park.
If five privileged, white reporters are allowed to sleep in these places without interference, surely anyone can!
We're well aware that this campout could look like an exercise in poverty tourism. We make no claim to know what it's like to be homeless for even one night. Instead, we consulted people who do live on the streets—and they offer their views on the mayor's new policy below.
Portland's elected officials try to balance concern for people living on the streets against the frustrations of constituents who wish the homeless would just magically disappear. (See our FAQ below.)
The challenge isn't new. For decades, Portland mayors have struggled with balancing compassion and order, and have entered into the debate about adding more indoor shelter beds or letting people camp outside. (See a timeline of camping policies below.)
It's worth taking a few minutes to consider, as you would after arriving at a campsite after dark, two fundamental questions: How did we get here? And are we in the right place?
This much is clear: Talking about homelessness like it's an apocalypse rather than a management challenge doesn't help anybody. And the mayor's basic argument—that the sidewalks belong to all of us, and we have to learn to share them—is worth taking seriously.
So we're testing the boundaries of the new rules to see if our leaders can handle the consequences.
One thing we learned: Hales' neighbors politely ask that you keep it down, and will ask the police to visit.
Remember: There's room for many people on Hales' sidewalk. Them's the rules. AARON MESH.
Looking for a sidewalk campsite beneath a canopy of hardwoods, along TriMet bus lines, with the possibility to see real Portland wildlife, ranging from skateboarders to coyotes? Look no further than the park strip in front of Mayor Charlie Hales' charming 1930 English cottage house, across the street from the Eastmoreland Golf Course.
Last week, we set out two sleeping bags, lawn chairs and a tarp in front of Hales' house at 9 pm—the time when limited street camping will be permitted under the mayor's new policy.
Hales wasn't home. He and his wife, Nancy, were on vacation in Mexico.
But his housesitter was there. Victoria Dinu is a friendly former Rose Festival queen who works part-time for Nancy Hales at the Portland State University program First Stop Portland, and is also the personal assistant to Pink Martini bandleader Thomas Lauderdale.
Around 10:30, she arrived at the Haleses' house and pulled up a lawn chair for a chat.
"I'm just going to sit down with you guys," she said.
Later, Dinu let some of our friends use the bathroom inside the mayor's house and then gave us a 24-ounce plastic jar of peanut butter pretzels from Hales' pantry.
Also home: Hales' neighbors, who were less friendly.
At least one of them apparently called the police to complain we were protesters who were laughing too loudly. At 10:45 pm, squad cars pulled up down the street.
Three Portland Police Bureau officers and one young woman not in uniform asked what we were up to. We told them we were exercising our right to camp on city property between 9 pm and 7 am.
The senior officer nodded. "All right, well, here's the deal," he said. "You guys can totally camp here, like you said. It's totally legal."
Another officer asked, with genuine concern, if we were homeless.
"They're making a statement," said the lead cop. "As long as you keep your voices down," he added, "camp away."
The officers rolled by once more in their patrol cars. The neighbors had called again, they told us. We needed to take down our tarp structure to comply with the law—and then, if we kept our voices down, there was nothing they could do.
They also warned us to watch out for the coyotes that wander the golf course. We decided to stash the remaining peanut butter pretzels in the car.
At 11:30 pm, a blond woman emerged from the house next door to Hales' place. She told us she respected our right to protest whatever we wanted, but asked if we could respect her right as a homeowner and keep it down.
"There's a baby on this street," she said.
We left at 1 am.
Two days later, we returned to take photos, and the blond woman was still riled up about our presence.
"You're making up stories," she said. "And don't even think about taking my picture." LIZZY ACKER and SOPHIA JUNE.
If you're going to camp in a Portland park, why not the city's most magisterial?
For several months, homeless people have been camping in city parks, without response from City Hall. Those parks include Creston and Sellwood parks, according to The Oregonian. But not Mount
Grassy, forested Tabor—named after a peak in Israel—is one of urban America's true wonders, a dormant volcano cinder cone rising near Portland's geographic center.
Roads leading to its apex close at 10 pm—as I was politely reminded by park rangers last week—and so campers must pack their tents a brisk half-mile walk uphill from Southeast Lincoln Street.
I eventually set up my tent in the soothing glow of the water-house lights at Reservoir 1—one of Tabor's three pristine meditation pools.
The night air smelled of cedar and fir and, briefly, marijuana, as a couple strolled past. Mount Tabor, though well-populated during the day, is almost silent in the late evening except for the faint but frequent call of police sirens.
I slept undisturbed and woke at dawn to a bracing westward view. The hike down was heavily detoured by construction crews taking over the only direct descent, but the city of Portland crewman helpfully pointed me and my tent gear in the right direction. MATTHEW KORFHAGE.
City Commissioner Amanda Fritz's house in the West Portland Park
neighborhood has no sidewalk. Fortunately, it sits less than two blocks from an actual park—called Loll Wildwood.
Fritz oversees Portland Parks & Recreation. Along with Mayor Charlie Hales, she's been at the forefront of decisions to allow homeless campsites in city parks.
I decided to see what happened when I camped in the park nearest her house.
Forested and lush, the park sits on a folded hillside, with Arnold Creek babbling at the bottom of a deep gully that runs east to west through its middle.
The park's interior is also rugged and uneven, and finding a camping spot requires scrambles up and down steep slopes and around patches of Himalayan blackberry.
I settled in a small, grassy clearing on the park's south side, closest to Fritz's yard. The clearing was spacious and well-kept, and even included a picnic table.
The porch lights across the street kept me from working in total darkness and allowed anyone curious to stop by and see what I was up to.
But nobody did. An old man and the dog he was walking were the only mammals I actually saw all night, and they went right on by without a peep. I did get a few weird looks from some garbage men in the morning. COBY HUTZLER.
Sleep outside City Commissioner Nick Fish's house, and you may get a public declaration of sympathy.
Fish's house in the Hollywood neighborhood is just a few blocks east of the tall evergreens of Grant Park and—more practically—a five-minute walk from a McDonald's with restrooms open until 11 pm.
Fish, who oversaw the Portland Housing Bureau for two years, has been skeptical of Mayor Charlie Hales' new sidewalk-sleeping policy. He also seemed troubled by the sight of me unrolling a sleeping bag along his sidewalk.
He pulled his car into the driveway about 9:30 pm. I walked up to introduce myself. "Do you live around here?" Fish asked. I explained WW's test of the mayor's new policy. We shook hands, and Fish quickly bade me good night.
It was a mild rainy night. I lay comfortably in my sleeping bag until I discovered the tarp serving as my shelter was not fully waterproof. The rest of the night was spent edging away from puddles. When a delivery guy pulled up and flung a newspaper into Fish's driveway, I called it quits.
I later learned that a half-hour after he discovered me in his yard, Fish had announced my presence on Facebook.
"Most people sleeping outside tonight don't have a choice," he wrote. "But whether they are an intern on assignment, or a homeless family, let's treat everyone with dignity." PETER D'AURIA.
BY RACHEL MONAHAN
What is Mayor Charlie Hales' new plan for camping?
Hales wants to allow sleeping on the sidewalk. People would be allowed to place sleeping bags on the sidewalk, covered by a tarp, between the hours of 9 pm and 7 am—though not in heavily trafficked areas that already have a prohibition.
Hales would also allow tents on some city property that is not parkland, during the same hours. The maximum number of people allowed to sleep in any given location: six.
The mayor's policy would require storing tents during the day in city-provided storage. Hales has also proposed opening up to 10 larger campsites, similar to the Chinatown camp Right 2 Dream Too, and possibly purchasing 200 disaster-relief pods for people to sleep in.
This is a dramatic change from the city's longtime approach to homeless camps, which in the past aimed solely at reducing people sleeping outdoors.
In December, the mayor's office started tracking all the sweeps various agencies were conducting. Josh Alpert, the mayor's chief of staff, says agencies conducted 15 sweeps a day during the three or four days he tracked them.
Alpert says the new camping policy is a stop-gap measure. "The simple truth of the matter is that we do not yet have enough indoor safe places for people to sleep, which means we must try to accommodate as many people as we can who must sleep outdoors, while we continue to add more indoor spaces," Alpert tells WW.
Alpert says considerable thought went into the new approach.
"We've had a lot of conversation with those sleeping on the streets, providers, outreach workers, neighbors and others," he says. "It's in no way a solution to anything other than trying to reduce needless trauma to those grappling with the effects of homelessness, and attempts to balance the needs of livability that every city must provide."
Why did Hales announce the policy now?
Portland's homeless problem isn't new, and neither are the Portland Business Alliance's complaints about tents in the streets.
Since last March, when Hales announced he planned to run for re-election, homelessness has been the key issue facing the city. What's changed is that middle-class residents—in the North Park Blocks, in the Overlook neighborhood and in Lents—have joined the PBA in clamoring for action.
And when Oregon Treasurer Ted Wheeler entered the mayor's race last year, he hammered Hales' inaction on homelessness.
Hales reacted by declaring a housing emergency without consulting other local elected officials. Tangible results from that emergency declaration will be long in materializing, however, and even though Hales dropped out of the mayor's race in October, he's still been getting crucified. Having declared an emergency, he had to do something immediate.
But it remains puzzling why Hales, historically a moderate, has backed such a radical change in camping policy.
Advocates say they're not sure why Hales finally acted, but they're glad he did.
"I've been in the wilderness crying foul," says Israel Bayer, Street Roots executive director. "Why you are seeing electeds respond to the housing issue is based upon it clearly affecting a large percentage of population."
How many people are homeless in Portland?
The last official number was 3,801 in the county, according to 2015 Point-in-Time Count, a federally required census done every other year.
That number includes 1,042 in what's called transitional housing—apartments where people can stay sometimes for up to two years. That leaves 2,759 people living on the streets or spending the night in a shelter.
How many shelter beds are there in Portland?
We currently have 1,151 beds in shelters open in Multnomah County. That's a dramatic increase from a year ago—when only 843 beds were open—but some of the current shelters are temporary, and it leaves at least 1,600 people on the streets of Portland without the possibility of a bed, assuming the numbers of homeless have not changed.
Who are the homeless?
Among the 3,801 people Multnomah County counted last year, 57 percent had a disabling condition, 41 percent were people of color, 31 percent were women, and 17 percent were in families with children.
Marc Jolin, director of the city-county partnership A Home for Everyone, is part of a small army that's battled Portland's problem for decades.
"Homelessness is most common among people who already face a variety of disadvantages," Jolin says. "People are more likely to experience homelessness if they grew up in a family that experienced homelessness, are long-term unemployed, have limited formal education, have significant disabilities, addictions, or have experiences of trauma."
Between 2013 and 2015, the number of Portland homeless people in vulnerable populations spiked: African-Americans increased 48 percent, families increased 24 percent, and women increased 15 percent.
Is the homeless population growing?
This question is at the heart of public frustration and city policy. But it's not an easy question to answer.
Between 2013 and 2015, the number of people on the streets or in shelters remained about the same. All those tents cropping up under bridges may or may not be an indication of a sizable increase since the last official count.
But other numbers suggest a significant increase in people living on the streets in the past year.
Multnomah County's family shelter system reports an average nightly increase of 30 families in November and December 2015 as compared to those months in 2014—a 30 percent jump.
The eight school districts that include at least part of Multnomah County saw a 7 percent increase in homeless kids between the 2013-14 and the 2014-15 school years.
Much of the evidence homeless advocates offer for the idea that mass evictions and rent increases push more people onto the streets is anecdotal, but striking.
"A higher percentage of our families were experiencing homelessness for the first time," says Andy Miller, executive director of Human Solutions. "That's troubling."
Certainly at least one long-term trend is heading in the wrong direction.
"The number of unsheltered, chronically homeless people on our streets on any given night has increased significantly in Multnomah County over the past eight years," Jolin says. "These are people who have been outside for more than a year and are living with one or more significant disabilities. They tend to be much more visible to the general public."
Who's in favor of Hales' new policy?
Advocates for the homeless are hoping the policy will be more humane than shuffling homeless people around.
A tent is better than a culvert or an overpass. Grandiose, if vague, promises of big-dollar solutions aren't keeping people dry.
"This proposal for management of outdoor sleeping is the most comprehensive, progressive and deeply rational that has ever come from City Hall," said Monica Goracke of the Oregon Law Center during testimony last week.
Who's against it?
By sanctioning sidewalk sleeping and city camping, Hales has turned simmering frustrations into a potential firestorm.
Housing advocates fear the argument about tents will become a distraction from the focus needed to create more affordable housing quickly.
Neighborhood groups already angry about the city's approach to the homeless in their areas hate the idea of legal camping and say they weren't consulted before the announcement.
In Lents, the city acknowledges it still needs to figure out a separate policy for addressing the homeless camping along the Springwater Corridor, or as some of the neighbors disparagingly call it, "The Avenue of Terror."
"Allowing campers to stay on the street and putting some flimsy rules on them is a joke," says Robert Schultz, co-founder of Lents Active Watch. "We're dealing with some who are mentally ill, so are they going to pick a tent up? You're dealing with some who are horrible drug addicts. Are they going to give a darn? They're already on the lam, worrying about their fix. They're already living in filth. So why would they pick up a tent?"
How much would it cost to house all the people sleeping on the streets of Portland?
It would take more than $12 million a year to provide 1,600 more people with a shelter bed for the next year. A Home for Everyone estimates it costs $750,000 to open a shelter for 100 people for the first year.
That doesn't include the untold millions needed to provide services for addicts and the mentally ill. And it would have required even more money to keep people from losing their homes in the first place.
Welcome Home, a coalition of activist groups advocating more investment in affordable housing, estimates the Portland metro area is short at least 40,000 units of housing for low-income people—requiring $50 to $100 million in public monies every year for 20 years.
"To meet the housing needs of these Portlanders, we must build deeply affordable housing with our public dollars," says Welcome Home executive director Jessica Larson. "It's the only way to get rents low enough that they can afford."
How much money has the city and county dedicated?
The city and county, along with the Portland Housing Authority and federal government, will spend more than $57 million this year on housing-related services.
In September, Hales declared a housing emergency, then pledged an additional $20 million in funding for next year. Multnomah County Chairwoman Deborah Kafoury pledged to increase county funding for affordable housing by $10 million next year.
What happens after that, nobody knows.
Do they have any idea where this money is coming from?
It's not clear yet. The budgets for next year have not been announced. The Portland City Council has already set aside $10 million toward fulfilling its pledge.
The city and county may dedicate some of their recent windfalls (from higher tax receipts in the city's case, or a lawsuit in the county's case) to housing this year. City agencies are in the process of cutting 5 percent, which could help address the issue. County departments are looking at 2 percent cuts. New taxes on short-term rentals may also result in more funds for the city.
What do the leading mayoral candidates suggest we should do?
The two top candidates—Oregon Treasurer Ted Wheeler and Multnomah County Commissioner Jules Bailey—have expressed skepticism about Hales' new camping rules, saying he failed to consult sufficiently with citizens or other elected officials.
"I'm not convinced that the people of Portland are clear on where the mayor is going with this," Wheeler says.
So far during the campaign, Wheeler has pledged shelter beds for all homeless people in Portland. Bailey has focused on the need to build more affordable-housing stock.
Says Bailey, who sits on the board of A Home for Everyone:
"The mayor's plan comes from a place of compassion. It did not come to A Home for Everyone's board, and I hope to engage with my colleagues there and at the county to invest in real solutions, real housing."
BY BETH SLOVIC and PETER D'AURIA
If you want the street-level take on the city's camping policy, you go to Right 2 Dream Too and the Springwater Corridor.
No two places better showcase the extremes of homeless camping.
Right 2 Dream Too is a self-organized, self-monitored homeless camp that has operated along West Burnside Street at the Chinatown gate since 2011. That fall, WW described it as "basically a high-functioning commune run by those without housing."
It's now being moved to a new site in the Central Eastside Industrial District. Mayor Charlie Hales regularly cites Right 2 Dream Too as a model when he discusses opening camps across the city.
The Springwater Corridor is a poster child, too—for different reasons.
Last year, neighbors grew alarmed by confrontations with homeless people along a segment of the bike path running between Southeast 82nd Avenue and Flavel Street. They gave the sprawling camps a nickname: "The Avenue of Terror."
The name stuck, thanks in part to repetition by cycling advocacy website Bike Portland and the Portland Business Alliance.
We spoke to campers living in both places about whether they think Hales' new rules for camping will work. In both places, the mayor's plan met with a mixed reception.
Right 2 Dream Too residents
"I don't know why groups of six. Why not more? How long is a sidewalk? Two hundred feet? And how tall is a man? If you do the math, why can't it be more? If a person finds a place to sleep, let him sleep." —Earl Moody
"I think it's not OK to have the cops come in and shoo people away from where they feel safe and dry." —Tammy Moody
"More permanent housing is needed. Making people sleep on the sidewalk is not the answer. I know there are other solutions." —Mike Summers
"It's something that should have happened a long time ago. Why can't someone do what is a human right to everyone—sleep?" —Trish R.
Springwater Corridor residents
"You really need to make a camp for women. It's really bad out here for women. You can't just push people from site to site. You need to make camps. Make one for women, one for people with records—criminals—so they can steal from each other. Make a camp for couples." —Julie Zornado
I think it's good. Everybody has a place to go and not be messed with. As long as they keep it clean." —Hilarie Tucker
"I really don't like being out here, to tell you the truth. If they got the money to put people in places, they should put people in places. I just want to get my Social Security and move out of state." —Coatis Franks
"They should have a spot where people can keep their tent up, if they keep it clean. They have a lot of abandoned buildings they aren't even using. Why don't they put people in there?" —Angela Padilla
BY BETH SLOVIC
June 4, 1981: The city of Portland, under Mayor Frank Ivancie, adopts Ordinance 151690, prohibiting camping within city limits. That ban includes "any bedding, sleeping bag or other sleeping matter, or any stove or fire…whether or not such place incorporates the use of any tent, lean-to, shack or any other structure or any vehicle or part thereof."
June 25, 1981: The Portland City Council clarifies the camping ban by establishing penalties of up to $100 and 30 days in jail.
Feb. 10, 2000: A homeless man and his son challenge a ticket issued under Portland's anti-camping rule in Multnomah County Circuit Court.
Sept. 27, 2000: Multnomah County Circuit Judge Stephen L. Gallagher Jr. sides with the homeless man, ruling that Portland's 19-year-old anti-camping ordinance is unconstitutional because it criminalizes homelessness. "Performing such life-sustaining acts as sleeping with bedding is necessary action for someone without a home," Gallagher Jr. ruled, according to The Oregonian's coverage at the time. "This act of sleeping is not conduct that can be separated from the fact of the individual's status of being homeless."
Sept. 28, 2000: Portland appeals the ruling to the Oregon Court of Appeals and continues to enforce its camping ban.
December 2000: Camp Dignity, led by advocate Ibrahim Mubarak, is born when a handful of homeless Portlanders pitch tents under the Broadway Bridge.
September 2001: After multiple moves and months of negotiation with city leaders, Camp Dignity refashions itself as Dignity Village on city land near Portland International Airport and Columbia River Correctional Institution. It's supposed to be temporary. "It's not a goal of mine to have people live there forever," City Commissioner Erik Sten tells The Oregonian.
2003: The Portland City Council adopts an ordinance that bans blocking a public sidewalk. The concept often is referred to as Portland's "sit-lie rule," because it prohibits sitting or lying on downtown sidewalks.
June 23, 2004: Multnomah County Circuit Judge Marilyn E. Litzenberger calls the sit-lie rule overly broad and overturns it.
Dec. 15, 2004: The City Council passes a variation on the sit-lie rule, criminalizing blocking the sidewalk. "I'm not fully convinced that this is going to work," Sten says. City Hall will renew and tweak the policy repeatedly in the next five years.
2005: Portland enters the first year of its 10-year plan to end homelessness.
2007: The City Council agrees to let Dignity Village stay at its city-owned location for several more years. The village has grown to house about 60 people in structures that resemble food carts or backyard sheds.
April 25, 2008: Protesters pitch tents on the steps of City Hall to urge Mayor Tom Potter to ditch the anti-camping rule.
Dec. 12, 2008: Homeless Portlanders file a class-action lawsuit in U.S. District Court challenging the camping ban.
June 22, 2009: Multnomah County Circuit Judge Stephen K. Bushong declares the sit-lie rule violates the state constitution and overturns it. The City Council doesn't try another one.
June 2011: The City Council again extends Dignity Village's lease of city land in Northeast Portland but laments a lack of services for helping residents move to permanent housing.
Oct. 6, 2011: The Occupy Portland movement sets up camp in two downtown parks, Lownsdale and Chapman squares. Portland's prohibition on camping protects camping done in protest as a protected form of speech. Mayor Sam Adams tolerates the camp for 39 days, before telling police to sweep it.
Oct. 10, 2011: Ibrahim Mubarak launches a new tent city at the gates to Portland's Chinatown called Right 2 Dream Too.
December 2011: Portland OKs car camping in church parking lots. The pilot program flops. Churches express interest, but neighborhood groups stop them.
Aug. 21, 2012: The city settles the class-action lawsuit, but Portland's ban on tents survives because the case against it was not strong. City officials set up a system for returning belongings to homeless people whose campgrounds are swept.
Jan. 1, 2013: Mayor Charlie Hales takes office. The sidewalks outside City Hall routinely host overnight campers. The mayor pledges to combat an "epidemic of panhandling."
July 23, 2013: Hales evicts the City Hall campers, citing public sex and drug use. They move across the street to Chapman Square.
Aug. 7, 2013: Hales authorizes broad sweeps of homeless camps, starting in Chapman Square and moving across the central city. "Some of the people involved have said that the laws don't apply to them," Hales says. "And they're wrong."
Summer 2015: Campers in the North Park Blocks, some of whom engage in public sex and drug use, spark anger among neighbors and business owners. Other homeless Portlanders establish two camps, Hazelnut Grove and Forgotten Realms, in North Portland's Overlook neighborhood, over residents' objections.
Sept. 23, 2015: Hales declares a housing emergency in Portland. A week later, he pledges $20 million in additional city money to build affordable housing.
Feb. 8, 2016: Hales debuts his new rules to allow sleeping on the sidewalk and limited camping on city property.