November 5th, 2013

CONTACT: Anna Trevorrow, (207) 699-4141; Roberto Rodriguez (207) 450-9729

City Councilors Propose Concrete Action on Encampment Sweeps: Pausing the City’s Anti-Camping Ordinances for the Winter Will Save Lives 

In the wake of three sweeps of homeless encampments on November 1, City Councilors Anna Trevorrow and Roberto Rodríguez propose temporarily amending the City’s prohibition on public camping for the winter, seeking to stop the forcible removal of encampments and promote a policy and practice on unsheltered homelessness that centers human dignity and safety. 

PORTLAND, ME — City Councilors Anna Trevorrow and Roberto Rodríguez propose to temporarily amend three sections of the City of Portland Code of Ordinances to pause the City’s prohibition on public camping. These sections of the Code have been enforced through the City’s practice of sweeping homeless encampments. Encampment sweeps and camping bans forcibly relocate unhoused people, pushing vulnerable residents further to the margins and leading to substantial increases in deaths, hospitalizations, and life-threatening conditions. Temporarily amending the three sections of the Code will temporarily pause encampment sweeps through the winter—when forcibly displacing unhoused residents is even more dangerous—and enable the City Council to take a different approach to the issue of housing and homelessness. 

Since July 2022, five large encampment sweeps have been conducted by the City of Portland. Each time an encampment sweep occurs, unhoused residents lose their belongings and must search for an  alternative place to go. “It has become clear to me in the last several months that the sweeps are simply inhumane,” said Councilor Trevorrow, “we are separating people from the only life-sustaining belongings they have in the world, and sending them off to fend for themselves. In my opinion, we can’t continue this through the winter, when temps drop into the 30’s and below,” Trevorrow said.

Moreover, after each encampment sweep, the location is designated as an emphasis area, so unhoused people are prohibited from returning to the spot. Each encampment sweep reduces the public places on which unhoused residents can sleep, create shelter, and survive. After the November 1 sweeps, only one homeless encampment remains in downtown Portland, at Harbor View Park. As a result, unhoused people have been forced to live in more congested and larger encampments.“The size and concentration of the encampments is a grave concern,” Councilor Rodriguez said, “forcing together masses of people who are impoverished and facing desperate circumstances can only lead to increased problems,” Rodriguez said.

 The ordinance amendments proposed by Councilors Trevorrow and Rodríguez will pause any further encampment sweeps during the winter and will remove emphasis areas, enabling unhoused people to live in smaller and safer encampments until there is enough affordable housing and shelter capacity available in the city. 

Encampment sweeps are the wrong approach to Portland’s homelessness crisis. In April, the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) published a study that shows involuntary displacement of unhoused people, through encampment sweeps and camping bans, substantially increases morbidity and mortality over a 10-year period. The editorial for the JAMA study concludes that involuntary displacement of unhoused people is “making a bad situation worse.” During the winter, when survival outdoors is most challenging, encampment sweeps and camping bans cause even more danger and damage. In recognition of the increased dangers of sweeps and bans during winter and extreme weather, medical and public health professionals support winter bans on encampment sweeps as a “healthful first step.” 

Councilors Trevorrow and Rodriguez stressed that these policy changes are in keeping with City Council’s 2023 goals to always use “a lens that prioritizes racial, social and justice equity.” “We want to ensure that Council policies related to Portland’s most vulnerable residents are in-keeping with its goals around equity,” Councilor Rodriguez said. 

The amendments offered by City Councilors Trevorrow and Rodríguez will pause encampment sweeps and camping bans during the winter to mitigate the dangers and harms related to the involuntary displacement of unhoused people and, ultimately, save lives. They are slated to appear on the Council’s agenda for a first read on November 13th, and second read on November 20th.