Mayoral aide Sam Adams addressed a group of neighborhood association representatives and other Portlanders on Thursday afternoon about Mayor Ted Wheeler’s plan to build six massive sanctioned campsites across the city with up to 250 capacity each while gradually banning sidewalk camping.
Adams provided some remarkable details about the city’s vision that haven’t yet been released. They struck some attendees as lofty and others as militaristic.
The picture that emerged is one of tightly monitored camps with around-the-clock security, weapons checks at a single entrance, no use of drugs or alcohol in common spaces, two meals provided to campers per day, no fires and a 15-to-1 ratio of residents to staff.
In what will likely be a particularly contentious point in an already heated discussion about the campsites, Adams said the camps would not be “anonymous”: The city aims to maintain a database of campers’ names and dates of birth.
Adams hopes services at camps will include two meals per day, a daily “hefty snack,” housing navigation, and basic sanitary services.
The plans presented by Adams today raise a number of questions and suggest some internal contradictions.
The campsites are part of the mayor’s end goal to ban camping across the city. That means offering low-barrier shelter to those deepest in homelessness, addiction and mental illness. Based on the city’s blueprint today, however, it appears there will be very real barriers to entry: People cannot bring weapons nor use drugs in common spaces. Residents cannot light fires for either cooking or heating purposes. The question of pet ownership was not addressed.
Also, each camper must be referred by an outreach worker to make it into a campsite. “No walk-ins allowed,” Adams said—even though the camps are meant to support those who are being swept from unsanctioned camps. And campers are barred if they “are a clear and present danger to themselves or others.”
Another goal: keep the sites away from residential areas and business districts. That would seem to continue a trend of sticking shelters in lower-income neighborhoods that are already burdened by economic hardship. One attendee asked Adams that very question, saying it felt as though her neighborhood was a “dumping ground for your problems.”
Adams was peppered with questions about management of the camps, a point that remains unclear. If the city partners with nonprofit providers to manage the camps, Adams said, it would expect those organizations to provide some sort of security and work directly with the city on outcomes.
“Nothing against [Multnomah County], but we’ve been thinking that having that accountability directly with city staff and the mayor’s office and not having the intermediary of the county,” Adams explained. “The county does great work, but we think we can better have quality control by having a direct relationship with the nonprofit provider.”.
While Adams led the meeting, Wheeler was in a budget session with City Council colleagues, where he simultaneously proposed a $27 million funding package to kick-start the massive campsites. Adams described the request as a “down payment” on getting the sites running, though he couched it by adding that additional money would be necessary from Metro, Multnomah County and the state to fund the sites and the services the city aims to provide.
None of the governments has yet promised funding for the city’s plan.