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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?
  • 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?
  • 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 as the City done regarding homeless veterans?
  • 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 questions 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 advanced 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 in SW Portland and remains available for pickup for a month before it’s either thrown away or donated. 

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

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 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?

Many cities in the United States are experiencing similar challenges with homeless populations in urban areas. Portland is rapidly growing and there are fewer forgotten corners of our city, which in decades past have allowed for a less visible homeless population. That, combined with the relative ease of obtaining tents — a newer phenomenon — has created a perception that our homeless population has all of a sudden exploded, when in reality, it’s just much more visible.

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.


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 have the greatest negative impact on livability, and 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