Controversy Trails Portland’s Homelessness Crisis: Over 2000 People Sleep Outdoors, Groups File Suit, Claim The Policies Are 'Unlawful' And Put Vulnerable Residents At Grave Risk

Portland's homeless encampments have been thrown into disarray because of fires, stabbings, and shootings. This has led to the "Mayor's Camping Policies," a set of initiatives meted out by outgoing Mayor Charlie Hales. The initiatives have been hit by an avalanche of complaints about crime, noise pollution, drug use, and strewn garbage.

As the Los Angeles Times reports, the "Sleep Safe Policy" is part of a six-month experiment that allows Portland's homeless people to sleep in a maximum group of six anytime from 9 p.m every day until 7 a.m. the following morning. According to reports, an estimated 2,000 people sleep outdoors in Portland, picking lighted areas to put their sleeping bags to reduce risks of being robbed or attacked. Tents are allowed under the policy, but they can only be set up on city rights of way, for instance, on public parking strips.

Portland mayoral spokesperson Sara Hottman described how the guidelines have affected the homeless and other Portlandians.

"Since the safe sleep guidelines rolled out in February, there's been a noticeable reduction of tents and structures on sidewalks. Complaints to the mayor's office have been shifted from complaining about the homeless in general to complaining about garbage or behavior."

Hottman revealed that the homeless were going through hard times and that attempts were being made to resolve the livability issues.

The controversial issue came to a head last month when seven interest groups came together to file a lawsuit challenging the "Mayor Camping Policies" as unlawful. The suit alleges that Portland's homelessness crisis was always an accident waiting to happen, but authorities remained slow in preparing for the inevitable.

The "Mayor's Camping Policies" might be unpopular in some quarters, but the program is being closely monitored by other West Coast cities on the brink of their own homelessness emergencies. If the policies turn out to be an all round success, it would be embraced and used as a model by other large cities.

Portland is trying its best to ensure that the development does not pose a problem to the city by providing amenities that address health and garbage challenges. The amenities include the provision of portable toilets in safe-sleep zones, doling out needle containers, providing dumpsters, and handling out storage containers for personal belongings.

Los Angeles, Seattle, and San Francisco have all declared homelessness emergencies. Portland has done the same because it will allow the city to cut through the mesh of red tape and seek federal assistance more quickly. The four cities and their counties have an estimated 700,000 homeless people. According to the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Department, a third of America's homeless people are in California alone. Additionally, the National Alliance to End Homelessness estimates that close to 600,000 people sleep in emergency shelters, transitional housing, or outdoors in the U.S.

Portland's homeless violence is still way off from matching the mass shooting incident in Seattle's "Jungle" encampment, where five homeless people were shot by three robbers; two of those people died. This week, Seattle officials deemed the jungle a hazard and said they would relocate a ballpark figure of 300 campers.

The suit filed against Portland further reads that "telling people to sleep on the streets is not humane, in fact it is the opposite of humane; as recent events have shown the Mayor's Camping Policy resulted in violence, unhealthy conditions and pain and suffering for our most vulnerable residents." The suit went on to allege that the creation of camping grounds in Portland posed grave health and safety risks but noted that the biggest issue with the camping policy was that it gave an illusion that it was going to provide a solution very soon.

[Image via Joshua Rainey Photography/Shutterstock]