A proposal to amend the City of Portland’s loitering and camping ordinances to allow for homeless individuals to camp in public parks through the winter months is projected to cost the city over $1.2 million.
The ordinance changes were proposed by City Councilors Roberto Rodriguez and Anna Trevorrow on Nov. 13, and would create a temporary exemption to city’s prohibition on camping and loitering on city property for homeless individuals through April 2024.
The proposal would effectively put a five-month pause on the city’s current procedure of designating one large homeless encampment at a time as an “emphasis area,” where the city offers homeless individuals services and housing placements before eventually clearing out the encampment.
The amendments would maintain prohibitions on camping in certain areas, including downtown streets or sidewalks, playgrounds, Monument Square, and City Hall Plaza.
City officials, in recent memos to Portland City Manager Danielle West, have expressed their concerns over the public health and safety issues the ordinance changes may create if passed.
Those concerns included the increased spread of infectious diseases from dirty hypodermic needles, a lack of sanitary disposal of human waste, damage to public parks, and an increased risk of crime at local businesses.
Now, a fiscal impact note for the order published Wednesday shows the proposal could cost the various city departments hundreds of thousands of dollars through April 2024.
According to fiscal impact note, the approximate cost to the Portland Fire Department incurred by the proposal is projected to be $108,333 in staff costs, and $45,000 in equipment costs.
The note explains that the city has already received nearly 1,000 calls for service in 2023 relating to its current or former homeless encampments and their surrounding areas.
The Fire Department’s mobile medical outreach program, which currently operates with two providers for a five-hour daily shift, is approximately $5,000 per week.
If Councilor Rodriguez and Trevorrow’s proposal passes, another outreach team would have to be set up and an additional vehicle purchased to service the multiple encampments, costing an additional $5,000 per week over the five-month period as well as $45,000 for the vehicle.
The cost of the proposal to the Portland Public Works Department is projected to be approximately $518,867 over the five-month period, spread between staffing and equipment costs.
The cost to Public Works is projected to be so high, the note explains, because the department’s staff and fleet vehicles are already stretched thin, and become busy with the city’s winter operations during these months.
This would result in Public Works having to rely more on external contractors for their winter operations, while diverting their staff to cleanup, trash removal, and other services at the city’s homeless encampments.
Similarly, Parks, Recreation and Facilities is projected to incur additional costs totaling $271,188 if the proposal passes.
This sum the fiscal note attributes to hiring additional crews to clean portable restrooms at the encampments.
The note adds “all external vendors have refused to work with the City due to continued needles being disposed of within portable restrooms and other cleaning vendors have also refused to work with the City due to dangerous conditions in the encampments and harassment of their staff.”
Portland’s Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) is estimated to require an additional $15,000 just for cleaning hazardous waste and used needle deposits at encampments, if the order passes.
This would be in addition to an estimated $126,448 in DHHS staffing costs for the five-month period.
The fiscal impact note states that through October 2023 there were 177 calls for the Portland Police to respond to the Harborview Park encampment on Commercial Street, compared to just 27 over the same time period last year.
This number does not take into account calls for service from the area surrounding the Harborview encampment, including a nearby gas station “where calls for Police service have also increased significantly.”
The note projects the additional staffing costs for Portland Police under the proposed ordinance changes would be approximately $141,682.
This puts the total cost of the proposed legalization of camping and loitering for the homeless at $1,226,518 across these five city departments.
The Portland City Council is expected to vote on the proposal, Order 68-23/24, during their meeting on Monday.
Five affirmative votes are required for the proposal to pass.