A Portland city commission, is planning to change Portland’s building codes in order to force private property owners to accommodate members of Portland’s homeless population.

Portland, like other notably “blue” cities, is occupied with people sleeping on the streets, many of whom suffer from drug addiction and mental illness. In 2018, Portland was home to an estimated 14,000 chronically homeless people, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development

On Nov. 12, the commission narrowly approved a change to the design process language to say, “Provide opportunities to rest and be welcome.” The proposal discussed how private development can provide places for those who appeared to be the city’s “unhoused,” who are often kicked off of private property for loitering, sleeping, or camping, as is a private property owner’s right.

“Provide opportunities to rest and be welcome” was one of the most robust of the Planning and Sustainability Commission’s Nov. 12 work sessions on the Design Overlay Zone Amendments (DOZA) project. Commissioners discussed 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,” a statement provided by The Commission Chair Katherine Schultz to KATU News reads. 

The city of Portland also provided a letter from the commission, which said, “Specific to the phrasing of the guideline itself, we suggest making it even more clear that development should provide supportive space for people to feel welcome and safe and should allow space for people to rest, especially under our current housing shortage.”

Almost no members of the commission agreed to talk about the proposal on the record, including Oriana Magnera, who introduced the idea. One member, Jeff Bachrach, told the local outlet his concern that the requirements would cause quite a disagreement and might be impossible for designers and architects but 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,” Bachrach said.

In an article on The Heritage Foundation with the title: “Why Portland’s homeless problem is the worst in the nation,” the author pointed out that mental illness is now more common among the homeless in Oregon than in any other state. According to a study from 2016, 35-40% of homeless adults in Oregon suffer 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.

Heritage also reported 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. 

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