Portland homeless encampments banned in wildfire risk areas

Portland homeless encampments banned in wildfire risk areas
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People experiencing homelessness in Portland, Oregon, will no longer be able to camp in certain "high risk" areas of the city after the Portland City Council approved new fire safety protocols on Wednesday. The ban aims to lower the risk of accidental fires ignited at homeless encampments amid a devastating wildfire season, local commissioners said. 

"I do not like sweeps, and I do not like that we have a shortage of housing that people can afford to live in," Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, who oversees the fire bureau, said at a virtual meeting. "But I cannot stand by and do nothing as people are at risk of dying by fire."

Before an encampment is evicted by Portland Homelessness and Urban Camping Impact Reduction Program teams, individuals will be warned of the dangers of settling in fire-prone areas, according to Hardesty's policy director, Derek Bradley. He said that a tracking tool can be used for community members to report encampments that have "a history of problematic fire mitigation efforts." 

"We can't have people in these places because the slightest spark could turn into a loss of life very quickly," Bradley said. "And that's why it's such a really firm line about this."

The city-wide policies will last through wildfire season and when burn bans are issued for "high risk zones," which will be determined by fire officials, Portland fire marshal Kari Schimel said. Current zones include some of the city's major outdoor sites like Forest Park, Powell Butte Nature Parke and Linnton Park, according to a drafted map released by Portland City Council. 

"The hope here is that we are going to reduce these kind of hazard areas just like we do in a building," Schimel said. 

In 2019, there were an estimated 4,015 people experiencing homelessness in Portland and Multnomah County, CBS affiliate KOIN reported. As of June this year, there were as many as 125,400 estimated households on the brink of eviction in Oregon, according to the Portland State University Homelessness Research & Action Collaborative. 

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