How Does Portland’s Proposed Camping Ban Stack Up to Those of Other Major Oregon Cities?

The Martin v. Boise decision ruled cities cannot outlaw camping unless they have enough shelter beds available for the homeless population. But most cities have a plan to get around that stipulation.

A homeless camp sweep along the Springwater Corridor in 2016. (Henry Cromett)

The Portland City Council will vote June 7 on a sweeping ordinance that, if passed, would fundamentally change how the city approaches homelessness and penalizes unsanctioned camping. The ordinance would ban daytime camping on city property and sidewalks, and issue citations to those who violate the rules. A third citation could result in a $100 ticket or up to 30 days in jail. Other banned activities would include leaving trash behind and lighting fires.

Mayor Ted Wheeler cites a number of pressures that led him to such a sweeping proposal, but none larger than a law passed in 2021 that requires Oregon cities to create local ordinances about sitting, lying and sleeping on public property that are “objectively reasonable as to time, place and manner with regards to persons experiencing homelessness.”

Part of that law requires cities to craft regulations that are compliant with a 2019 ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the Martin v. Boise decision, which ruled cities cannot outlaw camping unless they have enough shelter beds available for the homeless population.

How a number of cities, including Portland, plan to get around that stipulation: allow camping, but only during nighttime hours.

Making the ban more prescriptive and specific, city officials say, allows municipalities to better enforce their rules without running into legal challenges because of Martin v. Boise.

Questions remain about Portland’s proposal, including whether homeless Portlanders will voluntarily comply with the new rules; if and how police will enforce the rules; and whether the city will penalize unhoused Portlanders for spending time in libraries and parks with their belongings.

While Portland’s homelessness crisis dwarfs that of its suburbs, other cities are wrestling with the upcoming July 1 deadline for the new law, too. Here’s what other major cities are considering for their own bans.

BEAVERTON: The city council there is expected to vote this week on a plan that’s nearly a mirror image of the proposal in front of the Portland City Council. The Beaverton ordinance would prohibit camping between the hours of 8 am and 8 pm on public property and sidewalks and near schools and social service providers, and would ban any structures that are kept in place past 8 am. Heating and cooking fires would be banned, as would leaving trash or personal belongings behind on city property.

Police would issue citations for $100 fines and up to 30 days in jail for those who violate the rules. Such penalties could be issued on the first violation, unlike Portland’s proposed penalty schedule, which would issue such citations only after a third offense.

“The issuing of citations for prohibited camping is at the discretion of the Beaverton Police Department,” says city spokeswoman Dianna Ballash. “There is no specific number of citations listed that would trigger an arrest.”

EUGENE: The city had an existing camping ban on all public property but tweaked its rules in late May to conform with House Bill 3115 and the Martin v. Boise ruling. It’s unclear if the updated rules—which in theory make the city’s camping ban less broad and more prescriptive—will ease up restrictions on where homeless people can pitch a tent.

Some of the city’s prior laws were softened by the ordinance while others were strengthened. A sleeping bag, for instance, is no longer considered a tent that could be cited. The Eugene City Council refined its ban to designate “location-specific” camping prohibitions, including prescribing buffers around schools and waterways and amending language to keep sidewalks clear for pedestrians and those with disabilities.

The ordinance also stiffened penalties. Fines for prohibited street or car camping after a first warning could span anywhere from $200 to $500 or up to 10 days in jail or both.

BEND: The city council there narrowly passed its new camping ordinance in the fall.

Camping for more than 24 hours is now prohibited on most city property, including rights of way, sidewalks and parking lots. That’s a first for the city, which has imposed few camping restrictions in the past.

Campers have 72 hours to move after being issued a warning, but there is no clear enforcement mechanism, such as a civil penalty or jail time, associated with Bend’s new camping code.

“We prefer to use the code as an educational tool and seek voluntary compliance. We have not issued any citations associated with houselessness under the camping code,” says Anne Aurand, a spokeswoman for the city. “No one has served jail time; camping is just a city code violation and not an offense that would have jail time since it’s not a crime.”

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