How Portland’s daytime camping ban could impact homeless shelters, services

PORTLAND, Ore. (KGW) — Executive directors of day centers in Portland worry a proposed daytime camping ban, if passed, could strain their limited resources and place a heavy burden on the people they strive to serve: the homeless and those living in poverty.

Even ahead of the implementation of such a measure, introduced by Mayor Ted Wheeler at City Council on Wednesday, both Rose Haven and Blanchet House report record numbers.

“Every day is busy. A year ago, a little over a year ago, we moved from a facility that was 3,000 square feet to this beautiful 10,000 square-foot facility, and it’s full,” explained Katie O’Brien with Rose Haven. “We are full and we are seeing about 150 people here a day.”

The day shelter in Northwest Portland for women, children and gender-diverse people has served thousands within the last year, but O’Brien said that’s merely a portion of the homeless population.

In Old Town, it’s a similar story, according to Scott Kerman with Blanchet House.

“We count the number of meals — breakfast, lunch and dinner — six days a week. We just finished the month of May and we served nearly 28,000 meals,” he said. “We had our busiest Wednesday night dinner that we can remember in a long time last night, nearly 500 meals. The lines have been extraordinary.”

Since these figures alone show a growing need, both Kerman and O’Brien testified at city council. They expressed their concerns about the camping ban, and how it could further exacerbate issues rather than solve them.

“To carry your house and your life around with you, with the expectation that you’re also going to come to a place like Rose Haven and be productive, it’s just adding to the problem. It’s not helping to eliminate it,” O’Brien said.

“A lot of the people that we serve at Blanchet House are elderly and disabled,” Kerman said. “We are trying to imagine what that is going to be like for them to have to move their things from place to place to place. We just don’t have enough places for people to go. And I do not think that this ordinance is going to magically make that so.”

Both centers also noted a financial burden with this potential ban, since neither is funded by government dollars.

“We do not get any government funding. We’ve existed for 26 years without it, without a nickel of government funding while providing a huge public benefit,” explained O’Brien. “We are at our threshold. And how is the city going to help us?”

Wheeler verbally committed to work with day shelters on that request. The mayor said, if passed, enforcement of the ban — which also prohibits camping in certain places —  would be phased in over time.

The daytime ban is seen as a first step in another plan that Wheeler announced last year to develop six sanctioned mass camping sites and then phase in a total ban on camping everywhere else in the city. None of the site have opened yet, although Wheeler’s office released some details about the first planned site earlier this year.

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