PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — City Council members in Portland, Oregon, pushed back a vote on a disputed budget measure that would finance the construction of designated camping areas for homeless people after residents expressed strong opposition during public testimony.
Mayor Ted Wheeler has proposed allocating $27 million of the city's budget to build a network of large, outdoor sites where homeless people would be allowed to camp. A camping ban would phase in once six designated camping areas have been built over 18 months.
“It’s going to take commitment from all of us to do the hard work that lies ahead,” Wheeler said during Thursday's meeting. “These allocations are a down payment on that work.”
The $27 million would help launch the first three campsites, with nearly half going toward their operational costs for the remainder of the fiscal year. About $4 million of it would be directed to the sites' preparation and construction.
The proposal would amend the city's budget for the current fiscal year to include the new projections.
Public testimony in opposition to the measure and the money that will fund it grew so heated during Thursday’s meeting that City Council members had to leave the chambers and conduct the rest of the meeting online. Members of the public were moved to another room in City Hall after some who opposed the plan interrupted council members and had their microphones cut after refusing to abide by time limits in emotionally charged testimony.
“What is needed is housing,” testified Ben Kopsa. The housing case manager with Transition Projects, a homeless shelter and services provider in Portland, said the funds would go “into running basically parking lots.”
Another resident, Shannon Kearns, said the plan amounted to “putting money into internment camps under the guise of support for our most marginalized community members.”
The six designated campsites would initially serve up to 150 people, with 24-hour management, access to services such as food, hygiene, litter collection and treatment for mental health and substance abuse. The location of the sites and the exact details of how they would work have yet to be confirmed.
While amendments to the budget proposal were voted on during Thursday's meeting, the vote on the proposal itself was delayed after a motion from Wheeler. The next vote on the budget measure has not been scheduled.
The mayor said he thinks $27 million would cover about half the costs of creating the sanctioned campsites, and that county and state resources would also be needed to fund the measure.
Claire Rush is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Follow Claire on Twitter.
Claire Rush, The Associated Press