A Portland police officer stands within a homeless encampment at the Fore River Parkway Trail on Sept. 6. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

The Portland City Council was discussing the weather Thursday night, and how it would impact homeless people camping at various locations throughout the city.

“We don’t want people out there camping when it’s cold,” said Mayor Kate Snyder during a workshop on the homeless encampments that have sprung up at various locations.

Councilors dove into a myriad of policy proposals including sanctioned camping, ramping up police presence at encampments, prohibiting camping on trails and in parks, offering more housing vouchers, and expanding city shelter capacity.

A new shelter is expected to open on Thanksgiving with the express purpose of serving asylum seekers, a move that will open up about 100 beds at the city shelter.

Director of Health and Human Services Kristen Dow said that between June 28 and Sept. 6, 180 shelter beds were offered to those living in encampments and only 12 of those beds were accepted. Still, Dow said, the shelter is completely full every night.

City manager Danielle West said a limited state of emergency could be declared in the city, during which time hazard pay would be instituted in one geographic area – around the homeless services center. This would relax city codes, allowing the city to house more people in the shelter than would normally be allowed. This would temporarily add about 150 beds to the shelter.


“I don’t want to add beds,” said Councilor Phillips, “I want housing.” Other councilors agreed that long-term policy proposals are of paramount importance, but with winter coming, finding someplace for people to sleep takes priority.

“The city doesn’t allow camping,” said Snyder in an interview following the meeting. “It’s been a community effort to not enforce that ordinance, but if we have enough beds to get everyone off the street that makes it possible to gradually begin enforcing it.”

A report from the Encampment Crisis Response Team is expected in the coming weeks. It will dive into reasons shelter beds were rejected and potentially offer more information to the council as members consider longer-term policy options. Police Chief Mark Dubois explained to the council that violent crime and open drug use is a problem at encampments, with stabbings and assaults regularly taking place. Councilor Mark Dion advocated for a stronger police presence at the encampments.

Meanwhile, Councilors Anna Trevorrow and Regina Phillips pushed for longer-term housing solutions and more housing vouchers.

Ultimately, the council decided to focus on the temporary emergency expansion of the city shelter ahead of the winter weather. A second workshop will be held on Sept. 26 in which council rules will be waived and the floor will be open to public comment on this proposal. In the meantime, city staff will work to compile information about budget and operational needs to support this temporary expansion.

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