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Tread carefully on camping proposals

Our Opinion

Portland city commissioners must think long and hard before they legalize the practice of homeless people camping on public property. We understand that Commissioner Nick Fish, who is in charge of the city's Housing Bureau, is walking a narrow, delicate path as he tries to negotiate between those who have mounted a constitutional challenge to the city's anti-camping ordinance and those who would prefer to keep homeless camps outlawed.

This week, Fish said he planned to ask the City Council to allow a limited number of people to camp on church properties, and he further said he is working with Police Commissioner Dan Saltzman to develop guidelines for allowing small numbers of people to camp on public property in town.

We heartily agree with involving the faith community to an even greater degree in helping the homeless. But the legal, moral and practical consequences of allowing camping on public property need close examination before Portland moves toward legitimizing such camps.

Homeless camps - even if small, mostly hidden and temporary - remain a visible symbol that Portland's other efforts to prevent and solve homelessness have failed. And the presence of these camps raises concerns about quality of life, public safety and commerce in Portland's downtown and neighborhoods.

It's true that the city faces a legal challenge related to its current anti-camping law, but it also has solid reason to aggressively defend its right to regulate and protect the appropriate use of public spaces that belong to all citizens.