Portland City Council members have pushed back a vote on a disputed budget measure that would fund the construction of designated camping areas for the homeless after residents voiced strong opposition in public testimony.
Mayor Ted Wheeler proposed to allocate $27 million from the city budget to build a network of large outdoor sites where homeless people would be allowed to camp. A camping ban would be put in place once six designated camping areas were built in 18 months.
“It’s going to take a commitment from all of us to do the hard work ahead of us,” Wheeler said at Thursday’s meeting. “These allowances are a down payment on this work.”
The $27 million would help launch the first three campsites, nearly half of which to cover their operating costs for the rest of the fiscal year. About $4 million of that would be spent on venue preparation and construction.
The proposal would modify the city’s budget for the current fiscal year to include the new projections.
Public testimony opposing 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 opponents of the plan interrupted council members and had their microphones cut off after refusing to meet emotionally charged testimony deadlines.
“What is needed is housing,” testified Ben Kopsa. The housing case manager for Transition Projects, a provider of homeless shelters and services in Portland, said the funds would be used “to basically manage parking lots.”
Another resident, Shannon Kearns, said the plan amounted to “investing money in internment camps under the guise of supporting the most marginalized members of our community”.
The six designated campsites would initially serve up to 150 people, with 24-hour management, access to services such as food, sanitation, waste collection and mental health and addiction treatment . The locations of the sites and details of their operation have yet to be confirmed.
While amendments to the budget proposal were voted on at Thursday’s meeting, voting on the proposal itself was delayed after a motion by Wheeler. The next vote on the budget measure has not been scheduled.
The mayor said he believed $27 million would cover about half the cost of creating the sanctioned campsites, and that county and state resources would also be needed to fund the measure.