Mayor Charlie Hales Wants to Replace Homeless Camp with Food Carts at City Hall

Mayor Charlie Hales' decision to evict a growing homeless camp from the Southwest 4th Avenue sidewalk is only the first stage of a plan to transform the plaza in front of City Hall.

The next step: food carts.

WW recently learned Hales met with staffers in the city's facilities department in recent weeks to discuss adding food carts, coffee carts and tables to the City Hall plaza and lobby—essentially turning the 118-year-old building into a cart pod.

Hales confirmed these discussions to WW this afternoon.

"City Hall and the Portland Building should be the people's buildings," Hales says. "It should make sense for people downtown to drop by City Hall to grab a cup of coffee or a snack or lunch; to meet friends here; to consider this as their building. That's our goal."

Hales spokesman Dana Haynes says the mayor's plan is still in talks, and the city hasn't created a timeline for adding carts.

"His vision for City Hall includes food carts and coffee carts, inside the building and outside on the plaza, as well as more tables and chairs inside, and tables and chairs outside," Haynes says. "He doesn't have a timeline for this. But he has met with facilities and with other elected officials to outline the idea."

The Oregonian mentioned the food-cart idea as a rumor last month. But today is the first time city officials confirmed the plan is underway.

As first reported by WW, Portland Police officers quietly posted metal signs in front of City Hall Friday evening outlawing obstruction of the sidewalk along Southwest 4th Avenue, using city code called a "high-use pedestrian zone."

Hales confirmed in a press conference today that city officials would power wash the sidewalk this week, removing the homeless encampment that has swelled to more than 45 people. Reports have questioned whether city code gives the mayor legal authority to ban sleeping on a stretch of sidewalk 24 hours a day. Hales hasn't had an answer.

(UPDATE, 3:37 pm: It doesn't.)

Campers on the sidewalk, who say they are protesting housing policies among other issues, say they won't leave without a fight.

Hales says the eviction is necessary because campers have been harassing visitors and television crews reporting from City Hall.

But they're also bothering City Council. Sources tell WW all but one of the city's elected officials have stopped using City Hall's front entrance on Southwest 4th Avenue in recent weeks to avoid being heckled.

Hales says he wants City Hall and the next-door Portland Building to be inviting to the public—which is why he removed electronic security gates this summer. The Oregonian reported this morning Hales also considered adding bioswales to the sidewalk but dropped the idea after city commissioners objected. 

"They should be natural gathering spots," Hales tells WW. "But that hasn't been the case lately."

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