Mayor Charlie Hales Scales Back His Policy Allowing People to Sleep on the Street

Hales has decided that the guidelines were too confusing, his release says.

Mayor Charlie Hales is scaling back his high-profile policy that allowed Portland's homeless to put up tents on city property and sleep on the sidewalks at night.

Hales announced the six-month pilot policy in February.

That six months is up next week, and the mayor has decided that the guidelines were too confusing, he says. In a press release, he says the policy ends today, and camping on the streets remains illegal.

But Hales tells WW he will continue to instruct park rangers and police officers to use their best judgment when dealing with people sleeping outside, and his office will not prioritize enforcement of the camping ban if the campers aren't causing problems.

"It is not legal to camp in Portland," Hales says, but adds that the prohibition against camping will remain the "lowest priority for enforcement."

Related: How one Portland neighborhood learned to stop worrying and love the homeless

The release from Hales' office today walks a fine line—it says the "Safe Sleep" pilot policy is over, but doesn't say what will replace it.

"The pilot was intended to provide certainty to homeless people that they would be able to get a safe night's sleep — without being awoken for violating the camping ordinance — and clarity for law enforcement that tents were permissible overnight, under certain conditions," Hales spokeswoman Sara Hottman writes in a press release. "However, the guidelines caused confusion; people believed that camping was made legal, and outreach workers and law enforcement struggled to educate people about the difference between a safe night's sleep and unsanctioned camping. Houseless people, housed people, and the Police Bureau indicated that the guidelines were not practicable."

The decision comes against the backdrop of plans to sweep the Springwater Corridor, which has become among the largest homeless camps in the country with up to 500 people camped out on the nature trail and bike area. Two and a half weeks ago, Hales announced plans to to sweep the Springwater on Aug. 1. Under threat of a lawsuit, Hales has since delayed those sweeps till Sept. 1.

Hales' policy was aimed at creating guidelines for the homeless to sleep on the streets while the city worked at trying to find shelters and permanent housing.

Related: A Field Guide to Urban Camping in Portland

In February, the city had a shortfall of shelter beds, with 1,400 fewer spaces than homeless people on the streets. As of the last official count in January 2015, there were 3,801 people on the streets or in shelters.

Less than 100 shelter beds have opened since then.

As part of the camping policy announced in February, the mayor's office also promised to open new shelters as well as open authorized campgrounds and locate parking lots for RV and car campers.

Among the more high-profile proposals included opening a city parking garage to tent camping at night and replicating San Francisco's Navigation Center at the old Washington High School campus. Neither has come to fruition.

The mayor has also failed to find places with parking lots for RVs and car campers.

Camping on the Springwater was never allowed under the mayor's camping policy, which expressly forbid camping in parks or in groups of more than six. The size of the camp was large enough that the mayor launched a six-month long process to figure out what to do, though neighborhood anger and pressure from fellow City Commissioners overtook that lengthy planning process.