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Our Opinion: Enforce the law, but aid homeless

Addressing the issue of homelessness, overnight camping and panhandling in downtown Portland always turns out to be more complicated than it ought to be.

Mayor Charlie Hales and the Portland Police Bureau ran headlong into these complexities again this week when they decided to crack down on protesters who’ve been encamped near City Hall for weeks. Hales wanted to clear the sidewalks in the vicinity and put a stop to overnight camping, but his original plan was thwarted by a city code that allows such enforcement only between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m.

Nonetheless, the city has pressed ahead with an aggressive plan to keep sidewalks open and to discourage camping where possible.

Hales’ assertive approach to these issues is welcome. Portland’s downtown retail environment, as active as it is, could be even more vibrant if the city did a better job of preserving the area for commerce, as opposed to allowing makeshift homeless camps.

Apart from the City Hall protesters, another group — the Right 2 Dream Too homeless camp — remains planted on private property next to the Chinatown Gate. The presence of that camp was blamed for a developer’s decision not to proceed with renovation of the old Grove Hotel. Losing such an investment is harmful to downtown and discouraging for other businesses.

Multiple bureaus within Portland’s city government — including police, housing and the mayor’s office — should own a piece of the homeless problem. Portland will never bring a complete end to homelessness, as it envisioned a decade ago, but it can marshal the resources needed to find housing for those who want it and reduce the number of people living on sidewalks and in other public places.

What’s required is strong enforcement tools coupled with intensive outreach to help homeless

people move from the streets into housing. Portland officials must consistently enforce anti-camping and other laws. They also should consider working with the community court system to truly hold accountable those who violate city ordinances.