A group gathered in front of City Hall on Monday to protest against homeless encampment sweeps. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

The Portland City Council again failed to pass a motion to expand capacity at the Homeless Services Center in Riverton by 50 beds.

The motion brought forth by City Manager Danielle West failed by a 5-4 vote on Oct. 2, but last week Councilor Regina Phillips, who originally voted against the motion, asked that the council reconsider the proposed expansion. Phillips explained that she had decided to change her vote because of new information from the city’s department of Health and Human Services indicating that more people from encampments are accepting beds at the shelter than a few weeks ago.

Zachary Moore, a volunteer recovery coach, holds a sign reading Stop the Sweeps to his forehead during a moment of silence to remember homeless people who passed away last week during a protest against homeless encampment sweeps in front of City Hall in Portland on Monday. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

On Monday night, the council voted 4-4 on the motion, with Councilors Mark Dion, Victoria Pelletier, Anna Trevorrow and Andrew Zarro voting against it, and Councilors Pious Ali, Roberto Rodriguez and Mayor Kate Snyder joining Phillips in voting in favor. Councilor April Fournier, who previously supported the motion, was absent from the meeting. A tie vote constitutes a failure, and under council rules any motion that fails comes before the council at its next meeting unless the council votes to permanently table it.

The vote to permanently table the motion also failed in a 4-4 tie, meaning the motion will come before the council for the third time at its next meeting, which will be on Nov. 13 because of the upcoming elections on Nov. 7.

Snyder proposed adding an amendment to the existing motion that would provide incentives and support to private shelters for expansions. After much back and forth, the council opted to receive a remote communication from West on Oct. 30, then to vote on the proposal alongside the expanded shelter expansion on Nov. 13.

Councilors largely expressed support for this idea, but those who now have voted twice against the expanded city shelter proposal indicated they would be hesitant to support any proposal that includes the 50-bed shelter expansion. West said she does not know yet if the proposal to support private shelter expansion will be separate from the proposed city shelter expansion.


Michael Fletcher shouts “Stop the sweeps” into a megahorn during a protest Monday against homeless encampment sweeps in front of City Hall in Portland. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Kristen Dow, director of Health and Human Services urged the council to approve the measure to expand the shelter in Riverton. She reported that every night the shelter is completely full and she said not expanding capacity leaves homeless people with limited options going into cold weather.

“I really would strongly say that 50 beds is not going to solve the problem that we are facing but it will give 50 people in our city who are sleeping outside the ability to choose to go into shelter if they want to,” Dow said.

The latest numbers from the city report 285 tents in the city. With the opening of the new shelter for asylum seekers at the end of November, about 100 beds are expected to open at the shelter in Riverton.

Rodriguez emphasized the significant gap between the number of beds currently available at the shelter and the number of tents in the city.

“We are using sweeps to compel people into shelter that doesn’t exist,” he said, criticizing the policy. Rodriguez voted in support of the motion to expand capacity at the shelter.

Throughout discussions about expanding the shelter, the council struggled with the changing data on what percentage of shelter beds are currently filled by asylum seekers. West and Zarro went back and forth about whether the shelter is currently 60% or 50% occupied by asylum seekers. West said that for months now that number has been approximately 50%, Zarro then pulled up a communication from mid-August that reported 85% of beds were filled with asylum seekers. It was unclear when the City Council first learned that the shelter is now only 50% occupied by asylum seekers.



Earlier in the meeting, Dow presented the city’s Housing Winter Response Plan to the council. This plan gets people into emergency warming shelter overnight when temperatures are dangerously low.

This year, the city has yet to determine a warming location because funding for the plan is not expected to be finalized until later this month. The temperature threshold has been amended this year to activate emergency warming shelter when the daytime high is 20 degrees or below, or when there are 10 inches of snow. Last year the threshold was zero degrees.

People listen to Jim Devine, an advocate with Homeless Voices for Justice, sing a song during a protest against homeless encampment sweeps in front of City Hall in Portland on Monday. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

The council also passed a measure to allow cannabis companies to deliver their products to customers’ homes. The measure passed unanimously.

Before the meeting, there was a protest against the upcoming encampment sweeps outside city hall. The state announced this month that it would sweep the encampment at the park and ride on Marginal Way on Nov. 1. In the intervening weeks, the city has posted signs indicating that it will sweep a small encampment of about 15 tents on Somerset Street and the tents near the park and ride that extend up along Marginal Way. While the city does not have control over the state’s sweep of the park and ride, it does have purview over the sweeps at Somerset and along Marginal Way outside of the park and ride.

The protest was organized by Jess Falero and Michael Fletcher.

The council will next convene for a regular meeting on Nov. 13, at which point they will vote on both the proposed emergency city shelter expansion and the mayor’s proposal to incentivize private shelter expansion. Should no more councilors change their vote, it is likely the emergency shelter expansion will pass, more than a month after it was originally voted on.

Related Headlines

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.