The Portland Police Bureau began to sweep out homeless people living on downtown sidewalks this morning, starting in Chapman Square and moving to a undisclosed list of locations they've been monitoring for weeks.
The sweep reveals Mayor Charlie Hales' latest tactic in a battle against the "epidemic of panhandling" that's been heating up all summer: He's enforcing a revised version of the city's camping ban.
“This is about lawlessness; this is about activities that are appropriate and inappropriate in the right-of-way,” Hales says in a statement. “Some of the people involved have said that the laws don’t apply to them. And they’re wrong.”
Police officers began the sweep around 8 am in Chapman Square—the site of 2011 Occupy Portland protests, and one of the most visible homeless camps in downtown since Hales cleared out the homeless camp in front of City Hall last month.
Cops are en route to four other locations they've been watching for large numbers of street kids living there, Haynes says.
"They have asked me not to say where they're going," Haynes says. "We don't want a countervailing force showing up in front."
Haynes says that as police brass were selecting sidewalks to clear, they also met with the Multnomah County District Attorney's office to design a legal system for enforcing no-camping policies.
Unlike Hales' use of a "high-use pedestrian zone" in front of City Hall, this system is supposed to remove people living on sidewalks at all hours of the day.
The DA told them police needed to clock several days of a person living on the sidewalk, then give that person a citation. If the person refused to move, the officer can arrest him or her. If they don't show up to a court date, the court can issue a bench warrant.
The system suggests Hales has decided on a tactic to move bands of street kids out of downtown, after the Oregon legislature killed a sit-lie bill this spring.
A homeless man who sleeps between Southeast 10th and 11th Avenues on Pine Street, near St. Francis Park, told a WW reporter Aug. 2 that police had recently been observing their encampment from unmarked cars.
This week's issue of WW looks at Portland's growing strife with homeless people, and profiles 10 people without homes.
UPDATE, 1:35 pm: Portland Police spokesman Sgt. Pete Simpson says officers are arresting homeless people who they warned in the last week about violating the city's sporadically-enforced camping ordinance.
"Those being arrested would be people who were told earlier this week or last week that they were in violation of the camping ordinance and have failed to pack up and/or clean up," Simpson says in an email. "They would be arrested for Interfering with a Peace Officer (for failing to obey a lawful order) and Camping."
Simpson says the city attorney and the Multnomah County DA's office instructed police "to provide ample warning to individuals and to document which individuals were spoken to, thus eliminating the 'I didn't know' argument later."
UPDATE, 1:50 pm: The sidewalk sweep extends well beyond downtown. Simpson confirms police are enforcing the camping ban in at least three quadrants of the city—Southwest, Northwest and Southeast.