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The City of Portland, Oregon

Homelessness Toolkit

City of Portland

Frequently Asked Questions

Skip to the following categories: ENFORCEMENT, GENERAL QUESTIONS, STATE OF EMERGENCY, or CAMPING, Or, scroll down for answers to the following questions:

  • I have a homeless camp in front of my business/home. Why can't the police do anything about it?
  • What does it mean to "post" a campsite?
  • Who has the authority to post campsites?
  • Why won't the City institute a "sit-lie" ordinance?
  • I am witnessing unlawful activity, such as drugs, sex in public, aggressive behavior, and people using the public right-of-way as a toilet. What are the boundaries of legal and illegal behavior? Who should I call when I witness unlawful behaviors?
  • Why won't the police arrest people experiencing homelessness?
  • How do I report a campsite, garbage, or people living in a vehicle and what is the best way to report?
  • I witnessed an illegal dump on public property or public right of way (unrelated to homeless camps).
  • Someone dumped garbage and junk illegally on my property.
  • I would like to report an abandoned vehicle (and/or a vehicle that is occupied).
  • I would like to report stockpiled items or trash in someone’s private yard.
  • I would like to report a homeless camp.
  • I would like to report a liquid spill.
  • I found needles and syringes on my private property.
  • Why does Portland have so many people experiencing homelessness?
  • What has the City previously done, and why are there still people experiencing homelessness?
  • What is the City going to do to end homelessness?
  • What has the City done regarding homeless veterans?
  • There is a lot of garbage on City property near where I live. What can I do about it?
  • Are there any resources available for issues on private property?
  • Why do people become homeless?
  • How does Portland compare to other communities with large populations of individuals experiencing homelessness?
  • What can I do to help?
  • How can I access shelter information?
  • What does the City's State of Emergency on Housing and Homelessness do?
  • What are the City's policies on camping?

Enforcement

I HAVE A HOMELESS CAMP IN FRONT OF MY BUSINESS/HOME. WHY CAN’T THE POLICE DO ANYTHING ABOUT IT RIGHT NOW?

The City only has the lawful authority to clean and move camps on City property and City right-of-way. When an illegal campsite is identified and movement is necessary, the City follows a process designed to be as transparent as possible in order to reduce trauma for everyone involved.

That process, mandated in the settlement of the Anderson v. Portland lawsuit, requires the City to post notification at the camp in question stating that they will have to leave. As soon as the City decides to remove the camp, service providers are notified to conduct outreach to the affected campers. 

The notification posted by the City gives anywhere from 24 hours to 7 days advance notice for individuals that they need to pack up and vacate the area. While that’s a vague timeframe, this occurs because it initially takes time to line up the resources to conduct the cleanup. Once the schedule is set, the City gives specific timing to the camp, and when a cleanup is initiated either City staff or contractors go to the camp and pick up garbage and any belongings people leave behind. Anything deemed as reasonably valuable personal property is then taken to a storage facility and remains available for pickup for at least one month before it’s either thrown away or donated. 

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO "POST" A CAMPSITE?

A post refers to written notification the City is required to give occupants of an unsanctioned encampment prior to the cleanup and removal of personal belongings. When a campsite is posted, the campers in that area have anywhere from 24 hours to 7 days to vacate the area and remove all of their belongings. This timeframe and process for cleanup is a direct result of Anderson et al. v. City of Portland DV-01447-AA, otherwise known as the Anderson Agreement. The Anderson Agreement governs the process by which the City responds to issues of unsanctioned encampments where individuals have erected structures in the public right of way and on public properties. It mandates the City provide written notification to campers no less than 24 hrs. in advance of camp cleanup, and that the City collect and store any personal belongings that are determined to be of reasonable value and/or utility. Any belongings found to be of value and/or utility that are left behind are collected, photographed, and stored for a period of ne less than 30 days for retrieval by the owner. After that 30-day period, if the property has not been reclaimed then it is either thrown away or donated to social service organizations.

For more information on this process or to find out what the City can and cannot store- please visit the Process for Belongings Retrieval page of our toolkit.

WHO HAS THE AUTHORITY TO POST CAMPSITES?

The Homelessness and Urban Camping Impact Reduction Program (HUCIRP) currently coordinates all camp cleanups throughout the City and has the authority to post campsites on City owned/maintained property. Posting and cleaning campsites can be difficult to coordinate. With multiple stakeholders at the table and a certain set of criteria that must be adhered to, it is essential that the City identify and adhere to a standard and uniform set of procedures when dealing with any unsanctioned encampment on public property. This centralized authority alleviates confusion as to what entity can post campsites for cleanup and when the postings are issued. Please note that this authority extends only to campsites located on City of Portland property and not on properties belonging to ODOT, TriMet, Union Pacific Railroad, BNSF Railway, or other entities including the Port of Portland and private commercial and residential properties.

WHY WON’T THE CITY INSTITUTE A “SIT-LIE” ORDINANCE?

A "sit-lie" policy is one designed to prevent people from sitting or lying on public sidewalks. In 2009 the United States District Court ruled that the City’s “sit-lie” ordinance was unconstitutional. Since then, the City has improved public space management in numerous ways.

By creating more walking beat routes with the Portland Police Bureau, police now have greater awareness of who lives on the street and have worked to earn trust, making it much easier for people to respect public space.

Certain high-use areas are designated “high pedestrian zones”, which mandates passable sidewalk; there are many blocks in the Central City that have been given this status by the Portland Bureau of Transportation and Portland Police Bureau.

I AM WITNESSING UNLAWFUL ACTIVITY, SUCH AS DRUGS, SEX IN PUBLIC, AGGRESSIVE BEHAVIOR, AND PEOPLE USING THE PUBLIC RIGHT-OF-WAY AS A TOILET. WHAT ARE THE BOUNDARIES OF LEGAL AND ILLEGAL BEHAVIOR? WHO SHOULD I CALL WHEN I WITNESS UNLAWFUL BEHAVIORS?

The City has created a “One Point of Contact” system to allow for a more efficient, streamlined way for the public to alert the City on misuse of public space. This system allows the public to easily report concerns regarding urban camping (i.e. aggressive behavior, open drug use) without having to be shuffled from bureau to bureau in order to get an issue resolved.

Not all complaints will result in immediate action by the City. There are low-level behaviors that will continue, as the City must marshal its resources strategically. But knowing where bad behavior exists allows the City to better coordinate resources with the Joint Office of Homeless Services and A Home For Everyone.

Please continue to report instances of urban camping at www.pdxreporter.org or at www.portlandoregon.gov/campsites. If there is an emergency, dial 911.

WHY WON’T THE POLICE ARREST PEOPLE EXPERIENCING HOMELESSNESS?

Being homeless is not against the law. The Department of Justice has recently made it clear that not allowing people to sleep on the street may be illegal. Criminal behaviors that happen in homeless camps are addressed by Portland Police Bureau in the same manner as any other crime. If you witness criminal behavior that warrants immediate response, please call 9-1-1.


General Questions

HOW DO I REPORT A CAMPSITE, GARBAGE, OR PEOPLE LIVING IN A VEHICLE AND WHAT IS THE BEST WAY TO REPORT?

The Homelessness and Urban Camping Impact Reduction Program (HUCIRP) runs the One Point of Contact Campsite reporting system and will respond to reports of unsanctioned urban camps, garbage, and about people living in vehicles. HUCIRP works with several partners including social services, PBOT’s vehicle inspection team, Bureau of Development Services Code Enforcement Team, and Police to help address these issues. Reports of garbage will be addressed within 1-3 business days.

The best way to report campsites is by visiting either www.portlandoregon.gov/campsites or www.pdxreporter.org. If you would prefer to call in, or do not have access to internet, you may call 503-823-4000 and an Information & Referral Specialist will take a report for you. You may use either one of the web report forms to submit a campsite report, but please note that it is not necessary to fill out both forms at once. You may pick one and send a report at least once or twice a week for as long as the problem persists. Also note- it is not necessary to submit multiple reports in one day. The City will review the report and work with their partners to help address the issue as quickly as possible.

Following submission of a report, you can follow up with any questions you may have by emailing reportpdx@portlandoregon.gov.

I WITNESSED AN ILLEGAL DUMP ON PUBLIC PROPERTY OR PUBLIC RIGHT OF WAY (UNRELATED TO HOMELESS CAMPS).

Contact Metro’s Regional Illegal Dumping (RID) Patrol and file a report by calling 503-234-3000 or by going online at www.oregonmetro.gov/ridpatrol.

SOMEONE DUMPED GARBAGE AND JUNK ILLEGALLY ON MY PROPERTY.

Contact RID Patrol to request investigation of an illegal dump on your property, including parking lots, easements, or driveways or next to your dumpster or trash can. Please provide evidence with our request, such as mail, surveillance video, labels on prescription medications, or vehicle description with license plate numbers.

Do not move the items to public property. You could be cited for illegal dumping.

I WOULD LIKE TO REPORT AN ABANDONED VEHICLE AND/OR A VEHICLE THAT IS OCCUPIED.

In Portland, visit https://www.portlandoregon.gov/transportation/article/300466.

In other areas, contact the local nuisance or code enforcement department in your city.

I WOULD LIKE TO REPORT STOCKPILED ITEMS OR TRASH IN SOMEONE'S PRIVATE YARD.

If you’re concerned about a private property storing large numbers of items in their yard, or see stockpiled trash spilling into public areas like the street or sidewalk, contact the local nuisance or code enforcement department in your city.

In Portland, visit https://www.portlandoregon.gov/bds/article/25079.

I WOULD LIKE TO REPORT A HOMELESS CAMP.

In Portland, you can make a report online at https://www.portlandoregon.gov/69333 or at https://www.pdxreporter.org.

In Gresham, you can make a report online at https://greshamoregon.gov/mygresham/.

In Clackamas County, you can make a report online at https://web3.clackamas.us/up/forms/violations.jsp.

In other areas, contact the local nuisance or code enforcement department in your city.

I WOULD LIKE TO REPORT A LIQUID SPILL.

In Portland: The Bureau of Environmental Services’ Spill Hotline at 503-823-7180 responds 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

In other areas: Call 911 for emergency and public safety assistance from the local fire, police and medical services. Otherwise contact your local nuisance or code enforcement department or local non-emergency police.

I FOUND NEEDLES AND SYRINGES ON MY PRIVATE PROPERTY.

If you find a syringe or other sharps, don’t pick them up with your bare hands. With gloves on, use tongs to place sharps in a sealable, puncture-proof container (heavy plastic, not glass). To avoid accidentally sticking yourself, do not hold the container while placing the syringe inside. Tape the container shut and label it: “Sharps Container DO NOT Recycle.”

Find sharps disposal options and locations here: https://www.oregonmetro.gov/tools-living/healthy-home/common-hazardous-products/medical-waste-or-sharps

WHY DOES PORTLAND HAVE SO MANY PEOPLE EXPERIENCING HOMELESSNESS?

Homelessness is a challenge that many communities are grappling with across the United States. There really is no simple reason as to why individuals experience homelessness. The causes are diverse and related to many systemic and institutional structures within our country. Housing affordability is one contributor and one of the key issues facing individuals in our community. We are seeing a shortage in the amount of affordable homes available. That, coupled with the pace at which individuals are moving to our region has led to a decrease in places that people can actually afford. Additionally, we are seeing an increased amount of individuals with mental health issues and drug addiction issues living on our streets. Without the proper support systems in place for anyone experiencing homelessness, it can be difficult for someone to access and maintain permanent housing. Another factor that can lead to individuals experiencing homelessness is related to domestic violence. Oftentimes, people in this situation have no other option but to live outside. These reasons, coupled with the lack of available shelter space, means we are seeing more people living outside.

The reasons mentioned here are simplified. It should be known that the causes of homelessness can be vast and complex, and we as a community must come together if we wish to solve it. The City actively works with the Joint Office of Homeless Services (JOHS) to help address this community issue.

WHAT HAS THE CITY PREVIOUSLY DONE, AND WHY ARE THERE STILL PEOPLE EXPERIENCING HOMELESSNESS?

The 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness, launched in December 2004, sought to end chronic homelessness. Together, our community made it easier for people to get help when they needed it and invested in permanent supportive housing for people with very high needs. Successes include:

  • Helping more than 12,000 homeless families and individuals find permanent homes. A year after permanent placement, 84 percent were still stably housed.
  • Opening Bud Clark Commons, which includes a day center, emergency shelter for 90 men (including 45 veterans), and 130 permanent supportive housing units. In FY 2011-12, the day center provided basic services to 7,100 people. Of these, 637 found permanent housing and 3,669 were connected to services.
  • Launching Bridges to Housing, an innovative four-county collaboration providing permanent housing, intensive family services and child care for homeless families with high needs. By 2011, more than 187 families had been helped.
  • Creating and consolidating the Short-Term Rent Assistance (STRA) program into a centrally administered rent assistance and eviction prevention program. In 2011, more than $4 million federal, state and local funding from the City of Portland, City of Gresham, Multnomah County and Home Forward, went into STRA, preventing or ending homelessness for 2,365 households.

While these successes permanently housed thousands of Portlanders experiencing homelessness, they did not end homelessness. The most recent economic recession led to more homelessness, which was then followed by a very dramatic increase in rents and housing prices, leading to more people falling into homelessness or unable to get out of homelessness.

Additionally, in 2013, our community strategically combined resources and deployed them in a targeted manner to create A Home for Everyone, our shared community partnership.

WHAT IS THE CITY GOING TO DO TO END HOMELESSNESS?

There is a linear progression of moving people from living on the street into permanent housing, which is the end goal. At every point the City is working to move people living on the street either into temporary shelter and from there into permanent housing, or directly into permanent housing.

The City is a partner in a joint effort to house homeless, called A Home for Everyone. A Home for Everyone is a partnership of The City of Portland, Multnomah County, The City of Gresham, Meyer Memorial Trust, the business community, the nonprofit community and the faith community, with the goal of combining resources to target various strategies aimed at reducing homelessness.

The City's investments are aligned with A Home for Everyone’s strategic plan, and include investments made at every step of the homelessness continuum — helping to improve how people experience homelessness, providing more shelter space, and building more affordable housing.

WHAT HAS THE CITY DONE REGARDING HOMELESS VETERANS?

In 2014, the White House asked the City and County to take the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness and house every homeless veteran — a total of 690 veterans at that time — by the end of 2015. While there will likely continue to be more homeless veterans over time, the City and County took the challenge to get to “functional zero,” housing all existing homeless veterans so that additional homeless veterans can be more rapidly rehoused.

Through a massive combined effort with public agencies, nonprofits and private landlords, as of the end of November 2015, 695 veterans have been housed.

THERE IS A LOT OF GARBAGE ON CITY PROPERTY NEAR WHERE I LIVE. WHAT CAN I DO ABOUT IT?

Send us a report! The City’s Homelessness and Urban Camping Impact Reduction Program (HUCIRP) will respond to issues of garbage, debris, and biohazards within 1-3 business days.

If the items were dumped illegally (and not the result of a nearby encampment), contact Metro’s Regional Illegal Dumping (RID) Patrol and file a report by calling 503-234-3000 or by going online at www.oregonmetro.gov/ridpatrol.

ARE THERE ANY RESOURCES AVAILABLE FOR ISSUES ON PRIVATE PROPERTY?

The City cannot post, and clean campsites located on private property. If the issue is on private property other than your own, you can send us a report and we will forward it to BDS’ Code Enforcement team. Information on reporting code violations can be found on the Bureau of Development Services webpage (www.portlandoregon.gov/bds/34180). If the issue is on your own property, the City recommends the following:

  1. Report the campsite. There are two ways to report a campsite: an online form on the City of Portland’s webpage (www.portlandoregon.gov/campsites) or online at https://pdxreporter.org/. You can also call information and referral at 503-823-4000. This is for data collection purposes only.
  2. Call Police non-emergency at 503-823-3333. When speaking to non-emergency dispatch, it is most helpful to address the specific behaviors and not to address the individual’s perceived socioeconomic status. (Often, the operator may hear the words “homeless or transients etc.” and direct them back to OPC – when, in fact it needs to be addressed by police because it is on private property). Report that you have a person trespassing on your property, you need police assistance, and you would like to press charges.
  3. We recommend that you post a notice on your property informing individuals that any property that is there after 24 hours will be disposed of. Take a photo of your notice.
  4. If necessary, contact a crew or biohazard vendor to clean your property.

For more information on how HUCIRP will respond to issues of private property, please visit our Private Property Resource Document located within the resources page of our toolkit.

WHY DO PEOPLE BECOME HOMELESS?

People can experience homelessness for any range of reasons up to and including issues of mental health, drug/alcohol addictions, domestic violence, or just through the lack of any kind of supportive structure by which individuals could lean on family members or friends for help and assistance. Additionally, with rising cost of living and a lack of affordable housing, many people who may have jobs, may also find themselves without a stable place to live.

The importance of housing in helping to maintain a stable situation for individuals is crucial, as housing stability provides the foundation by which individuals can have the benefits of a good job and education. These benefits are difficult to achieved without stable housing to build upon.

Portland is taking a housing first approach in working to solve homelessness and placed 5,924 individuals into supportive housing in FY 2017-18.

HOW DOES PORTLAND COMPARE TO OTHER COMMUNITIES WITH LARGE POPULATIONS OF INDIVIDUALS EXPERIENCING HOMELESSNESS?

According to the last Point-in-Time Count for Multnomah County in 2017, Multnomah County has approximately 4,177 people experiencing homelessness. Of those, 1,668 are living unsheltered- a figure that has gone down from 1,887 in 2015. By comparison, Los Angeles County has approximately 52,765 individuals experiencing homelessness. Of those, 39,396 are living unsheltered. In Seattle/King County, their last point-in-time count shows 12,112 individuals experiencing homelessness, with 6,320 of those living unsheltered outside.

WHAT CAN I DO TO HELP?

Check out our toolkit highlighting different volunteer opportunities with Transition Projects, JOIN, or Central City Concern. There is a great need for shoe donations at the moment. Additionally, organizations are always looking for food donations. You can also visit operationnightwatch.org to volunteer with Operation Nightwatch as well.

HOW CAN I ACCESS SHELTER INFORMATION?

The best resource with the most up to date information regarding shelter is found by calling 2-1-1 or visiting 211info.org.


State of Emergency

WHAT DOES THE CITY’S STATE OF EMERGENCY ON HOUSING AND HOMELESSNESS DO?

Portland City Council declared a State of Emergency on October 7, 2015. Because the number of unsheltered people outnumber the number of available indoor bed spaces, and the continual rise of rent coupled with a rapidly growing population of new Portlanders, Council decided that new tools are necessary to address the crisis.

The State of Emergency allows the City to expedite permitting and siting for shelters and for building more affordable housing units — a both costly and time-consuming processes. The declaration allows for waiving certain procurement processes and, on a case-by-case basis, portions of the zoning and building codes.

Additionally, the declaration gives the City the ability to closely examine existing barriers to moving people from the street into permanent housing and begin the process of making permanent code changes to increase investment in addressing homelessness after the State of Emergency is lifted.


Camping

WHAT ARE THE CITY’S POLICIES ON CAMPING?

Unsanctioned camping is not permitted in the City (City Code 14A.50.020 and 14A.50.050). 

When camps are cleaned up, campers will be provided at least 24 hours and as much as 7 days advance written notice per the Anderson Settlement Agreement, and the City will store any items retrieved that are determined to be of reasonable value so that people can retrieve their belongings.

City enforcement will prioritize areas that pose the greatest risk to public health and safety. The City will continue to work with social service providers and the Portland Police Bureau to actively clean up campsites and help to get individuals the services they need. Police will continue to use compassion in enforcement, recognizing that the City doesn’t have enough shelter beds for everyone, and that some people have to sleep outside.

Should higher-impact camping exist, the City will remove camps, with an emphasis on explaining how they can camp in a low-impact way and where they can go to have an indoor bed space.

Shelter Information