On the one hand, many are relieved to see the mayor taking what they call a more humane approach. On the other hand, some are still concerned about it being too vague.

The proposal bans camping if there’s reasonable access to shelter.

Some organizations are now asking: What does “reasonable” mean when even Wheeler himself admitted on to KOIN 6 News Thursday night that there are not enough shelter beds for the thousands of people who are homeless in the city?

“I don’t want to see a time where all we have as reasonable shelter are mats on the ground and a community space and someone either have a consequence of jail time or that mat on the ground,” said Kristle Delihanty, the founder and executive director of PDX Saints Love. “There’s not enough shelter beds, There’s not enough substance use recovery options for people. And then it all goes all the way down to affordable housing.”

“The camping bans always affect our work because it puts people on edge and it creates a culture of fear,” said Liz Starke, the development director for Rose Haven.

However, some advocacy groups are also saying they appreciate there’s a clearer definition of camping that doesn’t include a person just sitting down with their belongings.

The ban also restricts fires, cooking, digging, trash, creating structures and having dismantled bikes or cars around tents. It also retains language from last year’s proposed camping ban — later struck down by a judge — that would require keeping public rights of way clear.

While the criminal penalties are less strict than the first ordinance, organizations who spoke to KOIN 6 News do not agree with the new repercussions: $100 fine, one week in jail or both.

“Criminalization isn’t the answer,” Starke said. “So it’s still on paper saying it’s illegal to be here when we don’t have a place for people to go.”

The Rose Haven director said people come in every single day to ask social workers to place them in shelters. But they often get the word back that there are long waitlists and that the shelters are often full.

“And if you have additional fees to pay and legal issues and appointments to get to and you may not even have a phone or an address that’s only going to make your road to recovery more difficult,” Starke said.

While some aspects of the new proposed ban are more defined, the specific phrase service providers have taken issue with is the idea of banning camping for someone who has access to “reasonable alternative shelter.”

Scott Kerman, director of the Blanchet House in Old Town, said in a statement that the proposed ordinance “appears to be a more humane and practical way to address the challenges we’re facing in our city. I appreciate the intent to help people find shelter that meets their individualized needs and prioritizes outreach over imprisonment.”

Wheeler told KOIN 6 News Thursday night that the proposed ban would give the city law enforcement tools to keep sidewalks and some public spaces clear. He said that the longer someone is on the street, the more likely they will suffer from behavioral health or substance use disorder issues.


Editor’s note: This story discusses self-harm.

In her late 50s, Laurie depended on $100 a month in food stamps while she lived in her car. She ate cold canned soup and food she could eat without cooking. She took showers when she could at her ex-brother-in-law’s house, where she parked her car. She found temporary jobs, like packing flower bulbs into net bags at a bulb factory. It was never enough money for rent.

At one point, Laurie developed pancreatitis, which sent her to the hospital. She suffered a stroke, and doctors determined she had experienced several small strokes. This impacted her memory. In her phone contacts, she keeps “son” and “sister” typed under these people’s names and photos to stir her memory if they call.

“Sometimes I slept on the side of the road in my car,” Laurie said. “I covered the windows so no one could look in and see what I had. I didn’t sleep good. Every little noise, I’d jump.”

Accessing resources for housing, work and health care is challenging for adults experiencing poverty and homelessness in their 50s and on. For many, there is a treacherous middle ground without shelter or income. This means service providers are helping them find housing along with health care, food, transportation and safety.

Laurie was homeless for three years after losing her husband to cancer and, consequently, her home. She lived in a series of cars, couch surfed and spent a few nights in women’s shelters and hotels. With the Street Roots Rose City Resource Guide, she found her way to local nonprofits PDX Saints Love and Rose Haven Day Shelter and Community Center for women and gender-diverse people. Another program, Up & Out, helped Laurie with housing.

She qualified for rapid rehousing and, with help from an Up & Out caseworker, moved into a townhouse last month. She recently started collecting widow’s benefits, and in one year, she will reapply for housing benefits.

“I wasn’t expecting to be a widow after 25 years, but it happened,” Laurie said. “And right now, I just thank God every day for what I’ve got. Without the (Rose City Resource Guide), I would’ve died, and I hate to say it, but I would have committed suicide if I had to live on the streets.”

Experts agree adults over 55 years old need housing and specific services, but resources are hard to navigate, underfunded and in short supply.

Katie O’Brien, Rose Haven executive director, told Street Roots she’s seen an increasing number of older women like Laurie line up for services in the past few years.

“We are serving about 150 people daily,” O’Brien said. “In the morning, the line is 50-60 deep, and others continue to trickle in. Now, the line puts women at a medical disadvantage. We have umbrellas and stools we bring out to make people as comfortable as possible.”

Kristi Katzke, case manager at Blanchet House, a nonprofit that temporarily houses 50 men with wraparound services, also sees homelessness among older people on a daily basis.

At age 65, Bob remembers the quick path to homelessness when he lost his job.

“The way I became homeless is I had a stroke … I could no longer type as fast as I had been able to,” Bob, a University of Washington graduate, said. “I could not perform my technical support job I had from home anymore. And my employer decided to let me go. I had a job that was fun for me to do — it was challenging.

“I was able to support my expenditures that I had. I was renting a room.”

Bob remembers living outside for a few days with one word: cold. After staying in a shelter, he found his way to Blanchet House, which also serves daily meals in Old Town.

Survival, shelter and employment

Staff at Blanchet House and Rose Haven said they see many older people face eviction and living in cars or tents. Some stay in temporary shelters, and some couch surf.

They often have physical and cognitive disabilities and may be dealing with addiction. Unfortunately, not all can stay in shelters.

“Many older folks do not meet the Activities of Daily Living (ADL) requirements to successfully manage themselves in a congregate shelter setting,” O’Brien said. “ADLs include bathing or showering, dressing, getting in and out of bed or a chair, walking, using the toilet, and eating. Shelters simply don’t have the capacity to support in this way.”

People with increasing physical problems related to aging are left out in the cold. This makes it even more difficult to access the resources they need in the first place. Many are struggling to survive.

“What if you’re not old enough to collect (Social Security) but no longer physically able to work?” Katzke said. “What if you worked construction and your knees give out? The earliest to collect SSI is 62, but you get much less. Some folks do take it early because they have nothing, but they’ve lost the ability to get the maximum. People are working later and later. But some physically and mentally may not be able to look for a job.”

Dealing with technology for job applications or training is complicated. Finding a bus route and traveling to an interview or a job can be exhausting.

“Folks can’t make ends meet on their Social Security, so they return to employment, but employment has so many barriers, and technology is one of them,” O’Brien said. “In addition to that barrier are physical barriers and dementia.


The need for health services becomes more urgent with housing instability, especially in connection with aging. This includes help with addiction recovery. Navigating technology is another useful service.

Marisa Zapata, director of the Homelessness Research & Action Collaborative at Portland State University, said people are living longer and encountering more disability issues and more complicated issues around living alone.

“When I say ‘disability,’ I’m including mental health,” Zapata said. “People with dementia need to be in assisted living. But it is so expensive. It’s unrealistic that people can get into assisted living at the cost we are looking at. If they don’t have family members, where are they going to go?”

On-site medical care is an essential service for transitional or long-term housing with people who are in their 50s and older. Finding transportation to the emergency room, followed by a long wait, can be risky and difficult.

“We have a small clinic here three days a week, and even though the nurse practitioner is not Bob’s primary full-time care, they do med management,” Katzke said. “It’s been nice to not run to the doctor every time there is a need for urgent care.”

In addition to the clinic, Blanchet House offers a safe and sober recovery opportunity. Duke Reiss, a peer support and housing specialist at Blanchet House, advocates for seniors who are struggling with addiction. Addiction can be a barrier to staying in shelters and for assisted living, limiting long-term options.

“It’s hard for seniors to quit using drugs,” Reiss said. “Veterans struggling with addiction were in the worst environment, especially those who were in Vietnam. They experienced trauma and pressure to use drugs and do things they wouldn’t normally do. All our seniors grew up in a different culture. Everyone with addiction deserves sympathy and encouragement.”

The aging homeless Portlanders at Blanchet House fit into three categories, Reiss said. Some are addicted. Some could better manage addiction if they were offered housing, but there is no room for them in assisted living or other facilities. Some have no addictions but struggle cognitively. For anyone with memory loss, it is extremely difficult to deal with bureaucracy and provide a mailing address, ID and necessary paperwork to qualify for housing.

“A lot of our seniors sleep under jackets on the sidewalk and can’t put up a tent,” Reiss said. “It is hard to keep track of a tent and not lose it. This is prevalent about all their items. We need to give our seniors unlimited access to phones, clothes, shoes, socks, underwear and diapers. They get taken advantage of and lose these. They need to have replenished supplies more than anyone and are stuck in the elements. I have to get supplies to some seniors every day.”

Rose Haven also replaces stolen or lost IDs and supplies, along with providing technical services for completing job and housing applications.

Long-term housing

“What we do is an investment,” Katzke said. “We’ve invested time.”

Bob is applying for Social Security Disability Income, or SSDI, benefits and then can apply for housing.

“We started the process of applying for SSDI last spring,” Katzke said. “It could still be six months or more before approval, then the wait for funds is usually several more months. Once approved, we can start looking for assisted living that will accept his insurance. You can imagine how much more difficult this process is if a person is suffering from cognitive issues and does not have the support Bob has benefited from.”

According to the Harvard study, “Housing America’s Older Adults 2023,” the annual median cost of assisted living and other costs of living in Portland is $75,000. The share of households able to afford assisted living is 16%. For people like Bob, these costs are out of reach without help.


Like other nonprofits, Blanchet House has to be creative about funding its services. It is supported by individuals, businesses and grants. It uses food recovery and involves many volunteers while serving 1,000 meals a day.

Scott Kerman, Blanchet House executive director, said the organization will receive Metro Supportive Housing Services funds for the first six months of 2024. This is implemented through Multnomah County, specifically the Joint Office of Homeless Services.

“Blanchet House is grateful that agencies that provide vital services during daytime hours are receiving support from (Supportive Housing Services) funds,” Kerman said. “I’m hoping this kind of county support will continue in the future because day centers are struggling to keep up with the need in our community, especially as serious mental illness and substance use disorder continues to escalate. The need we’re serving is urgent, so I’m hopeful that the county and Joint Office will continue to seek improvements that make accessing funding a more expedited and less onerous experience.”

With SHS funding, 99% of formerly unhoused people stayed in long-term housing after a year, OPB reported in November 2023. The Joint Office also surpassed its goal of offering rent assistance to those at risk of eviction. However, $42 million went unspent. According to the county, this is because of staff retention at nonprofits they contract with due to low wages and poor benefits.

There is still a growing need for housing and a sense of urgency among organizations serving homeless populations relying on Multnomah County to efficiently implement funding from Supportive Housing Services. According to Laura Golino de Lovato, Northwest Pilot Program executive director, this would enable older homeless people to access housing stability through Regional Long-term Rent Assistance vouchers.

An elderly woman who often joins the line at Rose Haven exemplifies this need for housing.

“She is in a wheelchair, unable to (use the) toilet on her own,” O’Brien said. “She is not able to go to a shelter where her options are to be on a mat or in a bunk. She has an Adult Protective Services caseworker, but they need time to find options for her. Her eviction makes this especially challenging, and access to nursing or assisted facilities are hard to procure. In the meantime, she is sleeping at bus shelters, experiencing the weather elements and being sexually harassed.”

“She comes to Rose Haven, and we provide her daytime shelter and assist her in finding the best options at the moment — which are never great ones.”

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Wintery weather and frigid temperatures have agencies across the Portland metro thinking of those most vulnerable: the homeless.

While some agencies already have overnight warming shelters running, others are in desperate need of volunteers.

“When we see temperatures like those we’ll see this weekend, it’s not really a matter of making someone comfortable. It’s a matter of life and death,” Mike Deckon, director of marketing at the Portland Rescue Mission, said. “It’s critical that people have an opportunity to get out of the snow, to get out of the cold.”

The Portland Rescue Mission serves as many as 200 people a night. This weekend they will continue to be open 24 hours a day, adding an additional 25 shelter mats for the extreme weather.

They will also operate a daytime warming center with coats, blankets, hats, and gloves available to those who need them while supplies last. They’re asking anyone able to drop off supplies to do so at the Burnside Shelter.

Also in Portland, Rose Haven typically operates as a day shelter only – offering everything from warm clothing and washers and dryers to food and a warm place during the day. Lately, they’re connecting those in need with nearby overnight shelter options and how to get there through resources like TriMet with free fare to shelters.

“We do have some private citizens and other organizations that have come together and decided within their churches and other locations, to form shelters on behalf of our houseless community, which has been really special,” Rose Haven executive director Katie O’Brien said. “Keeping an eye and being a really good neighbor, it’s a really important time of year to do that. You can also call the Multnomah County Emergency Line if you have a concern about someone and you want to do a wellness check on them. It’s time for us to watch out for our neighbors when we’re getting into the teens here.”

Homeless and shelter supports across the area have spent much of the week getting their own plans in place. For instance, Clackamas County opens overnight warming shelters when the temperatures or wind chill are forecasted to be 33 degrees or lower or when weather conditions make sleeping outdoors especially different.

The Father’s Heart in Oregon City will provide overnight warming shelters from Thursday night through Monday morning. Those interested in volunteering can sign up online.

County officials are also encouraging people to heat their homes safely, only using heaters that are built for indoor use, and not using outdoor heaters, BBQs or the oven due to the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. If you use a generator, make sure it’s only outside and at least 25 feet away from open doors and vents.

Washington County is still working on finalizing their list of warming shelters, but are also doing outreach work. Once plans are finalized Friday morning, available warming shelter resources will be listed online.

“We’ve been working very closely both with our shelter operators and also with our outreach service providers to get folks connected with that information,” Washington Co. housing communications coordinator Emily Roots said.

In Southwest Washington, the Council for the Homeless coordinates with non-profits and churches across Clark County to offer overflow and satellite shelters. Their call to the community this week includes extra hands to help.

“Right now we do have increased capacity because of that and those locations do need volunteers,” Charlene Welch with the Council for the Homeless said.

Those interested in connecting with the council or who have a concern about someone in need can call their housing hotline at 360-695-9677. Multnomah County also offers resources for emergency response and welfare checks at 503-823-3333 or 211.

Shelters in Portland and Multnomah County:

North PDX Winter Shelter
4775 N Lombard Street
Open overnight only, from 8:30 p.m. to 6 a.m.
Call 971-716-3407 for a referral

Congregation Beth Israel with Do Good
1972 NW Flanders Street
Open 24 hours, Friday through Sunday

Central Church of Nazarene by UGM
9715 SE Powell Blvd.
Open every day, from 9 p.m. to 6 p.m.
Walk in only, so call 503-274-4483 to confirm availability

LGBTQ+ Warming Center
4115 N Mississippi Avenue
Open Thursday through Sunday, from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.


 Blair Best

PORTLAND, Ore. — With Multnomah County closing its warming centers on Wednesday, Thursday’s freezing rain made a difficult situation worse.

Homeless people walk in the middle of the street to avoid icy sidewalks. A line wraps around the block of Blanchet House in Old Town, as people wait to pick out donated winter coats. Others carry tents, tarps and MREs they got from warming centers before they closed on Wednesday.

“It’s miserable. I feel like grime,” Jacob, who’s homeless, told KGW.

Multnomah County closed its warming centers because the emergency shelter thresholds were not met. Those include when temperatures are 25 degrees or below, one inch or more of snow, and or 32 degrees or below with at least one inch of driving rain overnight.

Multnomah County has since declared a “cold weather advisory” to expand outreach and hand out tents. Warming centers will remain closed.

County Chair Jessica Vega Pederson told KGW in an email that “The fact that we supported a record 1,300 people in a record 12 buildings over five days of 24-hour shelter — along with expanded outreach and other measures on days and nights when thresholds aren’t met — is proof that we’re deeply committed to improving our processes, partnerships and performance.

“Taken together, this is a system designed to support people through every night of the year, including the most life-threatening,” she continued.

But Jacob, who slept in a soaking wet tent and sleeping bag on the ice Wednesday night, begs to differ: “Tents ain’t doing enough.”

“That’s pretty rotten. I mean, a lot of people are dispersed and displaced,” said Tommy, another unhoused resident.

Tommy and Jacob are now left to rely on the few open day centers like Rose Haven.

“This morning, we’ve had people who have been outside all night, showing up here, looking for resources for tonight, and it’s been really, really challenging,” said Katie O’Brien, Rose Haven’s executive director.

“We’ve contacted the city and the county looking for additional beds. We called 211 last night; they had no beds available for anybody. There just aren’t the resources,” she continued.

For three hours on Thursday, the county opened three places for people to get cold weather gear.

“I think this is indicative of a much greater problem. We shouldn’t be scrambling like this in inclement weather. It is winter in Oregon — these beds should be available all the time, all year round,” O’Brien said.

However, there is one silver lining: The city of Portland extended the pause on camp removals through at least Friday.

“It’s hard for people out here trying to do the right thing and trying to stay sober and trying to better their life, and they’re not getting the opportunity to do so,” Jacob said.

KGW asked the city if they could open emergency shelters on their own, and they said it’s not their call to make; the city said it waits for the county to make those decisions and are prepared to help out when they do.

Although it’s a chilly 45 degrees out, Garrett Troupe and Mackenzie B sat at a metal table outside the Starbucks in the Portland State University Urban Center because their dog, Luna, would not handle the sights and smells of the coffee shop with any moderate amount of excitement.

As Troupe lets out a sigh of exhaustion, Luna, a husky and Cascadian timberwolf mix who works as Troupe’s service dog, whimpers — which Troupe says is Luna telling him to “calm down,” as she often does.

Troupe and Mackenzie, who preferred not to use her last name, have been awake for many days. They are tired.

Troupe covers his eyes as the MAX light rail and fire trucks roll by loudly, cringing at the flashing red and white lights. He has epilepsy, which he said makes being homeless even harder than it would usually be. He said epileptic fits seem to always come at the exact wrong time.

“He was about to have a seizure, the dog was freaking out, and that’s when (Rapid Response Bio Clean) showed up,” Mackenzie said. “Then they took all of our stuff.”

Troupe and Mackenzie said Rapid Response Bio Clean, commonly referred to as Rapid Response, swept their encampments twice in 2023. Each instance was uniquely traumatizing for the family — Troupe, Mackenzie, Luna and their two cats, whom Mackenzie lovingly refers to as “her boys.”

Mackenzie said Rapid Response, a private biohazard and waste removal company contracted by the city for a recently-upped total of $22.9 million, largely to carry out city-ordered sweeps of homeless encampments, first swept their encampment in June 2023.

Increase in sweeps

Sweeps increased dramatically alongside the growing homeless population during Mayor Ted Wheeler’s time in office, with an unprecedented 5,000 sweeps carried out since November 2022 — a daily average of 19 sweeps.

The most common type of sweep, which the city refers to as a “campsite removal,” begins with a posted notice the “campsite will be cleared no less than seventy-two (72) hours after and within ten (10) days of” the posting date. The notice explains, “all property confiscated from this camp will be maintained by Rapid Response Bio Clean, at their storage facility, for a minimum of thirty (30) days.” Rapid Response is then supposed to return in that three-day to 10-day time frame to remove all remaining possessions, trash and debris from the site.

These common sweeps are carried out based on referrals from the city’s Homelessness and Urban Camping Impact Reduction Program, or HUCIRP. HUCIRP uses a scale of immediate threat for individual encampments, which are graded from 0-100. Encampments meeting a certain threshold are then designated for a sweep.

Rapid Response’s contract requires it to follow certain city-approved procedures. These policies and procedures, laid out on the city’s website, include posting the 72-hour notice, a prohibition on discarding usable personal belongings and storing confiscated items in a warehouse, the address for which must be available to unhoused residents.

When a homeless Portlander is not present for a sweep, Rapid Response is then required to determine what is or is not a usable personal belonging, a process which, as covered by Street Roots in recent years, is not standardized and has led to numerous complaints and litigation. Homeless Portlanders frequently accuse Rapid Response of improperly disposing usable items as trash.

While the city maintains a complaint form for Rapid Response, filing a complaint requires access to a device or computer with an internet connection.

The city of Portland did not respond to requests for comment at the time of publication. Mike Casey, Rapid Response operations specialist, said Jan. 12, the business could not respond to questions by the time of publication with staff “in the field and engaged in outreach due to the inclement weather.” Casey referred Street Roots to policies listed on the city’s website.

Per city policy, Rapid Response is to itemize and organize all confiscated usable items in its warehouse so as to make the item retrieval process as simple and effective as possible.

Troupe and Mackenzie, however, did not have the smooth experience described in detail by city policy.

The couple said their 10-person tent contained a couple of three-tier rollaway toolboxes, hundreds of dollars in cash, and a variety of other personal belongings.

Troupe is a self-proclaimed “jack of all trades,” and most of his work is contracted carpentry and other construction jobs. Those tools, to him, represented thousands of dollars of work.

The couple, Mackenzie says, were in the process of getting back on their feet. They both had steady work for a good amount of time and were looking at getting into long-term housing, which made the sweep — and losing their savings and belongings — all the more devastating.

What typically happens during a sweep, in Mackenzie’s experience, is Rapid Response arrives and tells homeless Portlanders they have 10 minutes to remove all of their belongings from the area. As a result, many people end up having a majority of their belongings taken by Rapid Response employees because they can only carry so much in the allotted time.

While Rapid Response posts the 72-hour notice, and is supposed to return in that three-day to 10-day window, the city or its contractors commonly return late in the 10 day window and rather than sweeping the encampment, post a new notice, effectively extending the window for when contractors will return to sweep the encampment.

Police and Rapid Response Bio Clean staff conduct an abatement sweep on the corner of NW Third Ave and Burnside. A truck bed is filled with bags behind them.
Police accompany Rapid Response Bio Clean staff (left) during an abatement sweep on a parade route in 2022.
(Street Roots photo)

The city re-posted more than half of all encampments included in a 2022 Street Roots analysis.  The practice creates uncertainty and lulls people into a false sense of security, as does the broad three-day to 10-day initial window, service providers told Street Roots at the time. It also increases the risk that people will be absent or unprepared to remove their belongings when Rapid Response shows up.

Troupe and Mackenzie weren’t prepared when Rapid Response came knocking, and that’s how the couple says they lost the toolboxes and other valuables. Troupe said losing the tools cost him his job and any other work opportunities in the near future.

Troupe and Mackenzie made the trek to the Rapid Response warehouse in Southeast Portland and found what Troupe described as a “free for all,” with a giant pile of belongings open to anyone who cared to come to the warehouse.

Troupe and Mackenzie said they didn’t find any of their things in the warehouse. They did say, however, they found their items in the possession of other people on the streets, who presumably found the couple’s belongings in the warehouse and took them for themselves.

The second time, Rapid Response posted a notice, and eventually acted on it, telling the couple to move their belongings again.

“They said, ‘As long as you go a couple blocks that way, you’ll be fine,’” Mackenzie recalls being told.

The couple moved their tent, pets and belongings to where Rapid Response employees told them they’d be safe to stay. However, the employees didn’t stay true to their word. Street Roots covered a similar situation in 2022, when Rapid Response instructed a homeless Portlander to move their belongings around the corner to avoid being swept, only for the same crew to return hours later to sweep the area they previously said was safe.

“A couple days later, they came back with the cops and told us we had five minutes to get our animals and what we needed and move, or else we’d get arrested,” Mackenzie said.

Police, according to city policy, are not to be involved in common sweeps unless all non-confrontational and de-escalation efforts made by city contractors have failed. This is true except in the case of abatement sweeps, a different procedure intended for emergencies in which little or no notice is given. Police often accompany Rapid Response in their initial contact with homeless Portlanders and remain during the remainder of the abatement sweep.

Not an isolated incident

Troupe and Mackenzie aren’t the only homeless Portlanders who say they were unable to retrieve their belongings after a sweep. Far from it, in fact.

Liz Starke, Rose Haven development director, said Troupe and Mackenzie’s accounts are not rare.

“I’ve heard stories daily about interactions with Rapid Response,” Starke said.

On the streets, the prevailing narrative about Rapid Response is that of confusion, disruption and uncertainty among homeless Portlanders in response to what is essentially an eviction on the streets.

Denise Engall, a frequent Rose Haven visitor, said when Rapid Response swept her camp, she did as the posted notice dictated and called the number associated with Rapid Response in an attempt to retrieve her belongings. After telling them her name and the location of her camp, she said Rapid Response told her they had no recollection of ever collecting her belongings.

“It’s the Rapid Response way to say, ‘We don’t know about that,’” Engall said.

Eventually, she said she was able to track someone down at Rapid Response who remembered the sweep, and made an appointment with Rapid Response to retrieve her items. She was also asked to provide identification, which, according to outlines set by the city, is not standard for Rapid Response.

Once she got to the warehouse, all that was left of all her belongings was a rain fly and a rollaway bed. Engall said she lost jewelry, medication and a variety of other valuable belongings.

Kelli McBride, another regular at Rose Haven, found her interactions with Rapid Response to be similarly disconcerting.

McBride says she was roused out of her tent at 6 a.m. by Rapid Response employees, which was an enormous surprise as, according to McBride, Rapid Response had never posted a sweep notice at her campsite.

“They either don’t post a sign for a sweep, or they post, don’t show (at the time listed on the notice), and come five days later,” McBride said.

In 2023, the Street Roots ambassador program staged an experiment that corroborated much of the confusion and disarray described by other homeless Portlanders. The ambassadors set up tents in a soon-to-be-swept location to gather a better understanding of the belonging retrieval process.

After a process described as “far from smooth” in the project’s subsequent report, the team members were unable to successfully recover the majority of the belongings left to Rapid Response’s mercy.

When asked why so many of their things went missing, Rapid Response said other homeless Portlanders had stolen the items from the encampment, according to the report.

After Rapid Response asked the ambassadors to leave their camp, Rapid Response was unable to clean the entire encampment in one day. It then left the team’s tent out in the open overnight, unoccupied, and returned in the morning. This meant people could have easily gone into the tent and taken things since the residents of the area had left as instructed.

Starke said chaos and confusion are the norm for Rapid Response. As a whole, she said, the way Rapid Response is doing things is not working, and it’s not helping to end homelessness in any capacity.

“The system to get belongings back is challenging and confusing,” Starke said. “The information told by workers isn’t always accurate, the time and place they’re supposed to pick up their things isn’t always actually there, and people’s things aren’t put in safe places.

“There’s a general theme of discontent. It seems like they don’t want people to get their stuff back.”

Michael Fuller, a pro bono attorney who works with low-income clients, nicknamed the “Underdog Lawyer,” said the manner in which Rapid Response carries out the city-sanctioned sweeps is flat-out illegal.

Fuller refers to the taking of people’s property by Rapid Response as “conversion,” the legal term used for theft of personal property in civil cases.

Fuller successfully sued Rapid Response on multiple occasions, claiming conversion. But he said it’s difficult to sue Rapid Response and achieve any tangible change in its behavior.

“Rapid response has a sense of entitlement because (it’s) dealing with a population who is unlikely to have access to lawyers or the courts,” Fuller said. “They’re dealing with a population unlikely to be treated or viewed favorably by law enforcement.”





After Multnomah County closed all its overnight warming shelters Wednesday, Michael Harper trudged to homelessness nonprofit Street Roots in Old Town to get a referral to a nearby year-round shelter.

But when he arrived at the Union Gospel Mission, he was told the shelter was full.

“So I slept right out in front of the church on the sidewalk,” Harper, 49, said, adding that a handful of others did the same. “I’ll likely be sleeping on the sidewalk again tonight.”

Harper was one of an estimated 1,200 people forced to leave a dozen warming shelters Wednesday morning after county officials declared weather conditions no longer warranted emergency sites.

Unhoused Portlanders, advocates and nonprofit leaders across the region expressed grave worry and frustration over the county’s decision to cut off access to safe spaces while wet, windy and icy conditions persisted.

Just walking from the warming centers was treacherous, ejected shelter residents said, and it was hard to locate a place to stay dry overnight.

Indeed, late Wednesday at about 10:30 p.m. the county announced all of its own offices and libraries would be closed for safety reasons “due to ice.”

County officials relied on numerous weather forecasts that indicated as recently as Wednesday morning that temperatures would rise mid-Wednesday and ice would thaw – assertions that turned out to be wrong. But at the time they closed the shelters between 10 a.m. and noon, the temperature was 31 and slick ice remained on many streets.

“Severe weather shelters save lives during the very coldest and hardest nights of the year,” Multnomah County Chair Jessica Vega Pederson said in statement or to The Oregonian/OregonLive Thursday afternoon. “Multnomah County uses the best information we have to make decisions about severe weather shelter openings and closings, and preparations for both are multi-day endeavors.”

Vega Pederson said the county sheltered as many as 1,300 people a night for five days, which she said is proof the county is committed “to improving our processes, partnerships and performance.” The previous high, in December 2022, was just shy of 1,000 individuals.

“We consult weather and emergency management experts ahead of and during events,” Vega Pederson said. “No decision is made lightly … weather is unpredictable and sometimes weather events with very low probability, like yesterday’s delayed thaw take place.”

Another round of freezing rain is expected in the metro area as early as mid-afternoon Thursday, according to the National Weather Service’s Portland office.

Overnight temperatures are expected to linger around 30 degrees Thursday into Friday. Forecasters don’t expect ice to melt or temperatures to rise above freezing until around 10 a.m. Friday.

Nevertheless, officials in Multnomah and Washington counties have indicated they do not plan to reopen warming shelters. Clackamas County on Wednesday evening kept open a warming shelter it runs in cooperation with Clackamas Community College.

By policy, Multnomah County opens winter shelters when temperatures are forecast to dip to 25 degrees or below, if snow accumulation is forecast to reach an inch or more or if an inch or more of rain is forecast to fall overnight with temperatures are at or below 32 degrees. The thresholds must persist for four hours or occur between 8 p.m. and 7 a.m. to trigger shelter openings, according to the county. The county’s chief operating officer may also consider any other conditions that could increase the risk to the community.

National weather service forecasts indicate rain is unlikely to continue into overnight hours and temperatures will remain below freezing but above 25 degrees – conditions that would not trigger the county’s current thresholds.

Instead of shelter, the county has offered three spots where people can pick up cold weather gear from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday. The sites are at Cultivate Initiatives, 14625 SE Stark St., Bud Clark Commons, 650 NW Irving St., and Market Street Shelter, 120 SE Market St.

Clackamas County opted to open a warming shelter at The Father’s Heart in Oregon City from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursday and will reopen it at 6 p.m. for overnight shelter. Scott Anderson, county spokesperson, said they open overnight warming centers if weather is predicted to be 33 degrees or lower, including windchill factors, or if other factors make it dangerous to sleep outside.

Advocates believe Multnomah County should have a similar, more flexible guideline that considers dangerous conditions outside of their typical rules.

“Making decisions to kick everybody out into the ice based off an arbitrary temperature makes no sense,” said Liz Starke, development director for Rose Haven, a women’s day shelter in Portland. “It is clearly still an emergency situation out there and people simply have no place to go.”

Blanchet House peer support specialist Duke Reiss said one of their frequent guests died inside their tent from hypothermia over the weekend, though that individual is not included in Multnomah County’s count of hypothermia-related deaths. Multnomah County officials said the hypothermia-related death count would be updated at 3:30 p.m. Thursday, if any additional individuals died.

“She was found dead in her tent,” Reiss said. Her partner and others “were told it was a suspected hypothermia death.”

The woman and her partner were referred to Bybee Lakes Hope Center before the winter storm hit Portland. But the woman’s partner was turned away because he had a warrant for a non-violent criminal charge, Reiss said. She chose not to stay there if he couldn’t too.

“Her partner begged her to stay at Bybee Lakes without him, but she was nervous to stay on her own,” Reiss said. “We got them on waitlists for other shelters, but many of the shelters are at capacity right now … More low-barrier shelters could have prevented this death.”

Reiss said the winter shelters were particularly helpful to reach a broader demographic of unhoused Portlanders than typically access shelter because the sites are truly low-barrier. All who show up are welcomed.

Starke, at Rose Haven, said her staff was struggling to find shelter for people Thursday mornings as every nonprofit they called was at capacity.

“We need these types of low barrier shelters all year round,” Starke said. “But at the very least, if we know this weather is coming, the shelters should open before the crisis begins and stay open until we are safely past the crisis. People who are most vulnerable are really struggling, and it is still an emergency situation out there.”

Starke said hypothermia is not the only risk. She said there is an increased danger of people being hurt from tent fires or smoke inhalation as they try to keep their tents warm. By Thursday morning, many brand new orange tents could be seen in the Old Town neighborhood. Campers said they received the tents when they exited the warming centers Wednesday.

Raymond, who asked not to share his last name because he doesn’t want people to know he is houseless, stayed at the Market Street Shelter in Southeast Portland until it closed at 10 a.m. Wednesday. While he appreciated the food, sleeping bag, tarp and tent that he received before leaving, he believes the shelter should have remained open at least one more night.

“I was thinking, no way this is what they’re going to do,” Raymond, 66, said. “It was like being on the Lloyd Center ice rink. I was just thinking people were going to walk out on that ice and break their neck. I fell once and I just kept thinking, what were these people doing, pushing everyone out while it’s still all ice. The shelters did good for people, but they should have given us an extra day.”

A man standing next to Raymond waiting in line for lunch service at Blanchet House said he slipped on ice three times already. And many people could be seen walking down streets instead of sidewalks to avoid ice Wednesday night and into Thursday evening, though many of those individuals were hard for drivers to spot in the darkness.

Raymond is hoping to snag a spot at another shelter this week, but until then, he plans to ride TriMet buses throughout the city to stay warm.

Nicole Hayden reports on homelessness for The Oregonian/OregonLive. She can be reached at nhayden@oregonian.com. Editor Brad Schmidt contributed to this report.



 Blair Best


PORTLAND, Ore. — After the city of Portland’s daytime ban on homeless camping on most city property was put on pause, some from the homeless community and advocacy groups are breathing a sigh of relief — for now.

A group of homeless Portlanders had sued the city, calling it unconstitutional given the lack of shelter space in Portland. A circuit court judge ruled in their favor, temporarily blocking the city from enforcing it.

“It’s unconstitutional. It is,” said Patrick, who is homeless. “We have the freedom to be, as long as we’re not making a mess, as long as we’re not destroying property; the spaces are here.”

In June, the city passed the ban; repeat violations of that ban would have resulted in fines or jail time. The city spent the summer and much of the fall in what they called an “educational phase,” where they informed homeless people about it, though many homeless people still know little about the ban. Then, at the end of October, the city announced they would begin enforcement on Nov. 13, but late Thursday afternoon, a judge blocked the city from doing that for the time being, arguing that the ban itself is unconstitutional.

“It’s super confusing, and it’s super stressful. People come here with a lot of anxiety already,” said Katie O’Brien, the executive director of Rose Haven, a day center for homeless women and children in Northwest Portland. She says they were bracing for an overwhelming demand in services if the ban went into effect.

“There was this relief that came with knowing that there was going to be a pause,” O’Brien added. She said she hopes the city will use this time to create a more organized approach to addressing homelessness, which she says recent efforts have lacked.

“Communication and coordination and additional resources being available is going to be the key to success in getting people off our streets,” O’Brien said.

Mayor Ted Wheeler issued a statement regarding Thursday’s ruling, saying in part, “I believe the status quo is not working, but the Court’s decision leaves the status quo in place. The City will abide by the Court’s preliminary order while continuing to fight in court for the City’s right to adopt reasonable regulations on unsanctioned camping.”

Last year, a group of Portlanders with disabilities sued the city over tents blocking ADA access on the sidewalks. A judge ruled in their favor, and the city agreed to clear those types of campsites. The lawyers behind that case tell KGW that an update on that is coming soon.



PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – The fate of the city’s daytime camping ban will be heard in court Thursday, Nov. 9 when a judge decides whether to temporarily block the ban from going into effect.

The camping ban is expected to go into effect on Monday, but has already impacted service providers, who say they are already at capacity. One shelter, Rose Haven, said people are afraid of their belongings being swept with no place to go during the day.

The impending decision follows a lawsuit from the Oregon Law Center that represented people who are homeless. A judge will hear arguments from them Thursday morning about whether the camping ban should be temporarily blocked until a full trial can be conducted.

In June, Portland City Council passed an ordinance to ban camping near public places from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. It also forbids camping near parks, docks, schools and construction zones. Those found violating the ban could be subject to a $100-dollar fine or 30 days in jail.

Since then, Development Director Liz Starke said Rose Haven has gotten especially busy.

“We’ve kind of turned into first responders, but that’s really not what our mission is,” she said. “We’re a community center.”

On Tuesday, the day shelter for women and children served a record 175 people. Starke believes Portland’s announcement of the camping ban and its pending enforcement are part of the reason why.

“As soon as they announced the camping ban, they didn’t really have to enforce it,” she said. “Word is on the streets and people are scared. So we are dealing with increased escalation, just really severe mental health needs because folks are afraid that their stuff is going to be thrown away”.

The lawsuit alleged that the ordinance is impossible to understand and the city hasn’t provided useful guidance on where people can camp.

The city has handed out informational packets telling people where they cannot camp during the daytime ban, but the suit says there’s little-to-no information about where people may otherwise go.

A map exists online, but OLC claims it directs people to private property where they are subject to trespassing.

And while the city does not comment on pending litigation, Portland attorneys said in a legal response that the lawsuit makes the ordinance appear more restrictive than it is.

The city and Multnomah County have allocated more than $3 million from the Supportive Housing Tax so people can store their belongings during the day, but Starke says there are not enough of those places for everyone who is homeless in the city.

Plus, she said it’s not easy for service providers to expand – especially Rose Haven, which tripled its capacity in 2022.

“We need more temporary shelter, we need more wraparound services, but we certainly need more daytime services if it is not legal to be in one place,” Starke said.



by: Andrew ForanKaitlin FlaniganBrandon ThompsonAimee PlanteJami Seymore


PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — A stay has been temporarily issued for the City of Portland’s controversial daytime camping ban that has seen delays in enforcement since its passage in June.

Judge Rima Ghandour was set to decide Thursday whether to temporarily block the city of Portland’s daytime camping ban from going into effect. The judge decided that none of the daytime camping ban can be enforced — at least for now.

The camping ban initially was slated to go into effect in July and was then expected to be enforced starting Monday. It bans camping near public places from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., and those violating the ban could be subject to a $100 fine or 30 days in jail.

The judge’s decision comes after hearing arguments in connection with a lawsuit filed by the Oregon Law Center, who says people without homes are afraid to be fined or jailed if they are found to violate the ban.

“The status quo is bad for my clients, and the issue before the court is how much worse can it get if this ordinance is enforced and, unfortunately, it can get a lot worse,” Attorney Edward Johnson said.

The judge’s ruling will be in effect until the completion of a full trial over the law’s legality can be held.

enforcement affects guests


With less than a week until the city of Portland is set to begin enforcement of its daytime camping ban, intended to clear unhoused people from city streets and green spaces, a legal challenge could put those plans on hold.

A Multnomah County judge is scheduled to rule Thursday on a motion to pause the ban pending a trial over its constitutionality.

The Portland City Council approved restrictions on when and where people experiencing homelessness can place their belongings, sit or sleep in early June. The ordinance severely restricts where and how unhoused individuals can camp, particularly during the day.


City officials said at the time they would spend months educating community members about the ban before enforcing it, because getting more people into shelter, not criminalizing homelessness, was their goal. It wasn’t until last month that they announced plans to begin enforcement.

In late September, lawyers for a group of Portlanders experiencing homelessness filed a class action lawsuit in Multnomah County Circuit Court challenging the new restrictions.

The Oregon Law Center, which is representing the plaintiffs, asked the court to issue a temporary restraining order to prevent the city from enforcing the restrictions until the lawsuit is resolved.

The hearing on that request is scheduled for Thursday morning.

The lawsuit alleges the city’s camping restrictions violate current Oregon law and the state constitution because they subject people who are involuntarily homeless to unreasonable punishments – including potential fines and jail time – for engaging in unavoidable activities such as sleeping and staying warm and dry.

Federal judges in the 9th Circuit, which covers Oregon and eight other nearby states, have ruled that way, using cases out of Grants Pass and Boise to assert that cities can’t cite people for sleeping or existing on all public property if there are not enough shelter beds to accommodate them all.

The Portland ordinance forbids camping at any time in public parks or near schools, and it outlaws camping in any public place between the hours of 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. Once the city begins enforcing the rules, campers would receive two warnings if they break the regulations and a third violation could result in jail time or a fine.

Given that there are more unhoused Portlanders than there are shelter beds and the city lacks affordable housing, the city’s rules are unreasonable, the lawsuit alleges. Service providers and people with lived experience have said it is often not safe for homeless individuals to sleep at night, and instead many sleep during the day.

Officials at daytime centers that provide services, food and temporary cover from weather to unhoused Portlanders said they would welcome the additional time to prepare. Service providers feel it’s still too early to enforce the ban given that daytime centers have yet to expand their capacity, additional daytimes centers have yet to open and there still aren’t enough shelter beds to accommodate every Portland resident without a home despite hundreds of new beds added this year.
Cody Bowman, Mayor Ted Wheeler’s spokesperson, said the city is working quickly to add more shelter spaces. “The city of Portland is doing its share in getting more shelter spaces added,” Bowman said. “In the last six months alone, we have brought over 500 new spaces online.” An additional 200 shelter beds are slated to be added in the coming months through the city’s alternative shelter program.


Liz Starke, development director at Rose Haven, a women’s daytime center, said one of the city’s tactics to get unhoused people into shelters — telling them amid a tent sweep they need to enter one – could result in chaos.

Just last week, Starke recounted, “I was working with a lady in a wheelchair, she was elderly with no mobility, and she was swept and told to go to a shelter. When she got there, the shelter told her they couldn’t let her in without a referral, so she came to us. It doesn’t sound like the people doing sweeps were educated about our local resources.”

Even though enforcement of the camping ban hasn’t begun, Starke said the stress it places on people navigating homelessness has already manifested.

“People were immediately scared and we were seeing people’s mental health escalate with more crises,” she said. Rose Haven operates at its 150-person capacity each day, with people lined up outside the door waiting to get in, Starke said.

In anticipation of the increased demand for daytime shelter, the city worked with the county to secure $3.3 million from the voter-approved homelessness services tax in September to open or expand day centers.

Scott Kerman, director of homelessness services nonprofit Blanchet House, said the window to apply for that funding just opened Monday – a week before the enforcement is slated to start.

“I’m hopeful we’ll receive funding,” Kerman said. “However, I can’t speculate on the amount or how we might be able to use the funding.”

While many unhoused Portlanders seem to be aware of the ban and fearful of it, many don’t necessarily understand its nuances, Starke said. The city provided local nonprofits informational materials about the ban and maps showing where people will and will not be allowed to camp. However, Kerman said Blanchet House chose not to pass those out and instead will create their own materials that will be easier to understand.


“They may be useful in other locations and with other communities, but as for our meal service guests, we’llseek to design something ourselves … more visual with less text,” Kerman said.

Bowman said outreach teams have been working since June to educate unhoused Portlanders about how enforcement of the ban would work. Along with verbal communication, Bowman said the city printed and distributed more than 20,000 handouts.

Starting Monday, if a judge doesn’t halt enforcement, police will work with the city’s homelessness street coordination team to issue warnings and citations. Police will document each of them in a central records system, Bowman said.

Enforcement will narrowly focus on camps that present the highest health and safety risk, Bowman said, though he didn’t specify where those are. Unhoused Portlanders who accept offers of shelter will not be cited, he said.

Nicole Hayden reports on homelessness for The Oregonian/OregonLive. She can be reached at nhayden@oregonian.com.