Mayor Tom Potter should dislodge the Dignity Village annex that is starting to mushroom on three sides of City Hall

A s in most cities, you can’t just pitch a tent, throw down a sleeping bag and camp wherever you want in Portland.

Several city ordinances make that illegal. Also, of course, it’s unfair. You shouldn’t be able to usurp sidewalks, parks and other public places.

But that’s exactly what’s happening right now on three sides of City Hall. A permanent slumber party has erupted, calling itself a protest. The mayor and City Council haven’t surrendered the building; it only looks that way.

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To be fair, the city did make the campers dial it back a bit. They had to remove tents and makeshift structures — stretched between shopping carts — that had served as roofs. But the carts are still there, along with dogs, blankets, sleeping bags and piles of possessions.

A couple weeks ago, this all started with nine or 10 people. As of 7:45 a.m. Monday, there were 48, by our count. A few were having their first cigarettes; others had pulled out their cell phones to make calls. (The head count in the night hit 72, according to the campers, but some people had to leave early for appointments. A few have jobs; a few even have some kind of housing.)

In hindsight, it was remiss of the city to let this campground mushroom. It’s time, even past time, to say: “Party’s over.” The message needs to be delivered with tact and sensitivity, ample notice and social services offered to those who need and will accept them. It’s inconceivable that Mayor Tom Potter would deliver such a message any other way. But he does need to personally take command of the situation.

Potter must also answer a deeper question posed by this campout: Hasn’t anything improved since the city adopted its plan to end homelessness late in 2004? In effect, the current camp is turning into a kind of annex, and sequel, of the tent camp Dignity Village, even echoing some of the same arguments the villagers made about the need for more humane shelters where the homeless can keep pets and stay with spouses.

The difference is that Dignity Village started before the city launched its plan. Although the plan didn’t end Dignity — it still exists; it even boasts its own Web site — the plan did score some notable successes early on in getting people off the streets.

We’ve touted the city’s plan; the city and county have touted it, too. But much of the hardest work remains to be done, including finding more housing and more income sources for people who move into housing. It’s worrisome that several pivotal figures in the plan’s creation have departed in recent months from City Hall, including Commissioner Erik Sten.

The city may now be in danger of squandering the advances it has made against homelessness. It will take more than the election of Sten’s replacement to sustain the city’s momentum. Potter and the council must also get more involved. Without aggressive leadership from the city, the plan to end homelessness will just sleep-walk into a wall.

It’s time to put an end to the slumber party at City Hall, in more ways than one.

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