A section of the homeless encampment under the Casco Bay Bridge near Commercial Street in Portland on Thursday. Many people relocated to the site after the state and city cleared camps near Marginal Way. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

The homelessness crisis sent many Portlanders into a panic this week when two councilors announced they wanted to temporarily suspend the city’s camping ban and effectively end encampment sweeps.

Portland’s City Council will meet for the first time in nearly a month on Monday evening and will consider a proposal from councilors Anna Trevorrow and Roberto Rodriguez to allow homeless people to sleep in tents throughout the city until the end of April.

Roberto Rodriguez. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

It’s not clear if the measure has enough support to move forward after the heads of every major city department sent a letter to the council opposing the idea.

The proposal will only appear for a first read Monday, which means it will not go to a vote – and thus will not be open for public comment – until the next council meeting on Nov. 20. Council meetings this month are only a week apart due to the municipal elections.

Recent coordinated encampment sweeps by the city and state, along with dropping temperatures and the first snowfall of the winter, give the issue more urgency.

“We are not advocating that people be outside, we want to house as many people as possible, and the sweeps interfere with that,” Rodriguez said in a phone interview on Thursday. “At the moment if we had a 100% acceptance rate for the offers of beds at the shelter, we would still be left with dozens of people at night living outside. So the threat of sweeping an encampment as an incentive to accept those beds is fundamentally flawed because the beds don’t exist.”


The city’s Encampment Crisis Response Team has spent most of this year trying to get people into shelter before clearing encampments. But the camps have continued to grow. After last week’s sweeps near Marginal Way, many homeless people moved to what is now a massive, sprawling encampment near Harbor View Park.

Anna Trevorrow Courtesy of Anna Trevorrow

Trevorrow and Rodriguez say that’s a big concern.

In a phone interview Thursday, Trevorrow said one hope is to eliminate the large encampments where violence and disease can proliferate and instead offer people the opportunity to disperse and camp in smaller groups throughout the city.

“The unhoused are part of the general public,” Trevorrow said. “So, the idea that by allowing them to be in public spaces takes away use of that space for others I think is a false dichotomy. … People can share public space and coexist.”

Camping would still be banned at schools, playgrounds, Monument Square Park and City Hall. Rodriguez said he is continuing to work with city staff and the community to determine if other parts of the city also should be included as exemptions. Trevorrow also said she would be open to amending the proposal based on recommendations from staff.

Rodriguez said that in his view, the sweeps negatively impact the work of the Encampment Crisis Response Team because they disrupt the continuity of care homeless people receive from outreach workers, mental health workers and addiction counselors. When an encampment is cleared it becomes more difficult to find people, making it more difficult to provide sustained resources, he said.


Trevorrow said sweeps degrade the trust between the city and the homeless population. She sees this proposal as offering the community a basic kindness going into what is a difficult time of year for people sleeping outside.

“Separating people from life-sustaining belongings at a time when its cold enough to freeze outside is inhumane. We don’t want to make life harder for people who are going to be outside anyways,” she said.

A section of the encampment under the Casco Bay Bridge off Commercial Street in Portland on Thursday, Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer


The proposal is widely disliked among the city’s department heads.

On Wednesday, City Manager Danielle West sent a memo to the council pushing back against the idea. She said the proposal “is likely to have far-reaching impacts on city operations and staff, as well as the general public.”

She also said it threatens the work of the Encampment Crisis Response Team, and said if it were to pass, the city should question if it wants to keep using that model.


Rodriguez said the proposal is intended to support the team’s work, not hinder it.

“I am trying to advocate for the ECRT to be more effective, so I expect the ECRT to continue to be in place if this policy passes,” he said.

Trevorrow admitted that the model may need to be revised to no longer include what the city calls a “resolution date,” but that she would want outreach work to continue.

A section of the encampment under the Casco Bay Bridge off Commercial Street in Portland on Thursday. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Parks and Recreation Director Ethan Hipple wrote in a letter to the council that “it may take multiple years to solve the homelessness crisis we find ourselves in, but in the meantime, the public deserves access to safe, clean and welcoming parks.”

Kristen Dow, the director of Health and Human services, who submitted her resignation last week after years of work on the encampment crisis, laid out a list of concerns her department has about the proposal, including a lack of adequate water and waste disposal at encampments, which can lead to disease.

West and Dow declined interview requests Thursday to talk about the proposal, pointing to the memos to outline their positions.



The city has faced considerable backlash over the sweeps and it was a key issue during the mayoral campaign. Several protests outside City Hall have called for an end to the sweeps and outreach partners like Preble Street have put forth statements about their harmful impact. However, business owners and those living near encampments are concerned about safety. Some say that widespread camping could make things worse.

Chris Kast, 63, who works in marketing and lives in Portland, thinks there is a better solution out there.

“I think it would make Portland look like a welcoming sanctuary for the homeless population,” he said. “We need to focus on the bigger problem, that’s one of the reasons why I put my vote behind (Mayor-elect) Mark Dion, we need a grown-up in the room who can take some hard looks at these issues and make hard decisions.”

Lauren Wayne, 50, the manager of the State Theatre on Congress Street, shared Kast’s concerns.

“As someone running a small business this is already impacting us. We have crime rates going up and it’s not safe for the unhoused in their own encampments. There has to be a long-term affordable housing solution that goes into place,” Wayne said.


Dion, a current city councilor, said he’d like the council to wait to vote on this proposal until he and the two new city councilors take office on Dec. 4. But he said he will not support it. The mayor is a voting member of the council, so Dion will have a vote either way.

“To idly stand by and watch people freeze to death? I don’t think that’s how cities should manage themselves. We need to get people off the streets and into shelter,” he said.

Terence Miller, advocacy director at Preble Street, supports the plan.

“We know that every time there is a sweep it’s traumatizing, people’s belongings, medicine, licenses, papers, all of that is swept, and it’s traumatizing for a group of people already traumatized. It disrupts the process of getting people into shelter,” he said.

He said that sweeps are detrimental to building trust because many homeless people feel like the city does not have their best interests at heart.

An essential element of this proposal’s success, Miller said, would be providing essential services to homeless people where they are camping. That includes fresh water, bathrooms and food. He said this support would mitigate the spread of disease and also play a key role in building trust with the community and eventually moving them into shelter.


The council also will again consider West’s proposal to expand capacity at the city shelter by 50 beds on Monday.

The council shot down the proposal in a 5-4 vote in early October, but two weeks later Councilor Regina Phillips brought it back for another vote because she had changed her mind. The proposal again failed, this time in a 4-4 vote, with Councilor April Fournier absent.

It will come back a third time on Monday because of a rule that says any failed motion will come before the council at its next meeting unless the council votes to permanently table it – that vote failed in a 4-4 tie.

Should the proposal pass, it will likely take about four weeks to implement, meaning the 50 new beds would be available by mid-December.

But with this new option, it may not. Several councilors, including Rodriguez and Fournier, who voted in support of the proposal last time, said that part of the onus behind their votes was that it was the only option on the table.

That’s no longer the case.

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.