Portland panel recommends revising criminal trespass policy for shelters

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Among the recommendations Portland’s Racial Equity Steering Committee is developing for the City Council is a proposal to change how criminal trespass orders are handled by staff at homeless shelters.

The committee was formed last summer after the death of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man who was in the custody of Minneapolis police officers. The trial of a police officer accused in that case is now underway in Minnesota.

In its latest meeting, the committee recommended changes to how homeless individuals who become problematic at a city shelter are told to leave. The shelters currently can issue a criminal trespass order against someone who is considered dangerous or makes the staff or others feel unsafe. If the individual remains after the order has been issued or returns while it is still in effect, they may be arrested.

The committee is suggesting creating a new review policy for CTOs that places the burden on the city. It wants CTOs to be automatically reviewed by a third-party panel after 14 days, and again after 30 days. The individual who has been banned from the shelter does not have to be present for the review.

Cumberland County District Attorney Jonathan Sahrbeck, a member of the committee, said CTOs are a roadblock to the delivery of services, but said most are issued for safety concerns.

“I can’t think of anything else other than being in jail that would stop someone from receiving these services,” he said.

Sahrbeck said the automatic review of CTOs would make the city decide if the violation still exists. He said the current system puts the burden on the individual who received the CTO to seek a review or appeal.

“We wanted to put it back onto the city to say this is still necessary,” he said.

The recommendation rose out of concern for individuals who have been banned from a shelter and don’t have anywhere to go.

Deborah Ibonwa, another member of the committee, said she is particularly concerned about people who may be mentally ill. She said she understands there may be a safety concern for the staff, but there is just as big a safety concern for the person who has received the CTO.

“What about this person that’s going to be out on the streets on their own?” she said.

Committee co-Chair Lelia DeAndrade agreed. If someone has an episode, she said, then they may truly be a risk to the staff at the shelter. But if that person is truly a risk, the city can’t just send them to a different shelter, since that puts the new shelter at the same risk.

“We need a clear process so people know what’s going on, and (to) encourage the city to think of other safety nets,” Ibonwa said. “I don’t know what you would do if someone is dangerous. Where do you move them and what do you do with them?”

The panel hoped to have its final report ready to present to the City Council on April 12. It has already delivered an interim report, which called for dissolving the Police Citizen Review Subcommittee and replacing it with a much stronger group to oversee the Police Department.

The committee will meet again this week.