News and Commentary

Portland Wants Private Property Owners To Add ‘Mandatory Rest Spaces’ For The Homeless
ORTLAND, OR - FEBRUARY 11: A homeless man sleeps on a downtown roadway overpass on February 11, 2012 in Portland, Oregon. Portland has embraced its national reputation as a city inhabited by weird, independent people, as underscored in the dark comedy IFC TV show "Portlandia." (Photo by George Rose/Getty Images)
Photo by George Rose/Getty Images

Portland, Oregon, like many other notably “blue” cities, is not immune to a growing homelessness problem. Like San Francisco, California, and Seattle, Washington, Portland is overrun with people sleeping rough, many of whom suffer from drug addiction and mental illness.

There are humane ways to handle the homelessness problem but, it seems, a Portland city commission would rather change Portland’s building codes in order to force private property owners to accommodate members of Portland’s homeless population, according to local media.

The city’s “planning and sustainability commission,” which writes and enforces the city’s building codes, approved a change to building guidelines in November that would require new constuction to feature “opportunities to rest and be welcome” for those who do not number among that building’s residents or customers.

The requirement can be read a number of ways, but at least one member of the Portland planning and sustainability commission was clear to local reporters that the requirement is to the benefit of the city’s “unhoused,” who are often kicked off of private property for loitering, sleeping, or camping — as is (typically) a private property owner’s right.

“Just one of the realities of Portland right now is that we have a lot of folks who are unhoused who benefit from some of these spaces that provide weather protection,” she said when introducing the idea at a recent meeting.

Business owners obviously took issue with the new requirement, badgering committee members to be more specific about the rules — particularly whether the Portland planning and sustainability commission was mandating that private property owners accommodate beds, tents, and full camps.

Members of the commission, local news outlet KATU says, refused to go on the record about the plan. One member, at least, did object, calling the requirements onerus — but for designers and architects, not property owners.

“I think for us to put into design review some loaded words that suggest we want some design commissioners to think about people resting for hours, pitching tents, I think we’re just putting too great of a burden on design review,” he said.

Conservative news site Hot Air points out that, further in the committee’s discussions are indications that it does intend to force business owners to accommodate those who are “underserved” by the city’s public housing. The committee reportedly considered “how private development can provide places for people to feel welcome and safe, as well as allow space for people to rest, especially in light of our current housing shortage.”

According to the Heritage Foundation, which did a study on Portland’s homelessness, the city would be better off focusing on mental illness care and drug addiction treatment. Mental illness, the group reports, is “now more common among the homeless in Oregon than in any other state,” and its possible that between 35% and 40% of homeless individuals in Oregon are suffering from some form of mental illness.

The state’s one mental hospital, Dammasch, closed its doors in 1995, and released its patients with no follow up care, turning hundreds out on to the streets, ill-equipped to handle living on their own.

Interestingly enough, the Portland planning and sustainability commission is only codifying what appears to be a de facto rule about the homeless staking their claim to property within the city. Heritage reports that Portland police are prohibited from breaking up tent cities and encampments, and the city refuses to enforce a prohibition on camping or otherwise setting up shop in parks and on public ways, essentially giving the homeless the run of Portland.

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