Council approves church property camping program

Limited number of vehicles to be allowed on some properties

The City Council approved a one-year pilot program to allow a limited amount of camping at churches and nonprofit organizations on Wednesday morning.

The resolution authorizing the program was introduced by Housing Commissioner Nick Fish, who said it supplements other efforts by the city and Multnomah County to end homeless. The Multnomah County Commission is expected to approve a similar program Thursday, and to also approve spending $750,000 to help find permanent housing for those who take advantage of it.

The program approved by the council will allow camping in up to four motor vehicles owned or operated by churches and non-profit agencies in the cities that participate in it. They must provide access to water and restroom facilities.

Fish wrote the resolution with a number of religious and non-profit organizations, including Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon. It was inspired in part by the ongoing homeless camp at Northwest Third Avenue and Burnside Street known as Right 2 Dream Too. The program does not include the camp, however.

Dozens of homeless people and their supporters testified by the council vote. Many called the program inadequate considering the number of people needing housing in Portland, and Fish agreed.

"This resolution does not solve the problem," Fish said. "But when people of good faith come to us and ask us to do something, I think we should agree. It is not intended to solve the problem or be comprehensive in scope."

The city has policies that prohibit public camping. It is defending the legality of those policies in federal court. The Oregon Law Center has filed a lawsuit against the city, saying the policies are unconstitutional.

Defending Portland's efforts to end homelessness, Fish noted the city is sending millions of dollars a year on housing program. It recently funded Bud Clark Commons, formerly called the Regional Access Center, which provides apartments to some of the city's most vulnerable homeless people.

The resolution passed with the support of Commissioners Fish, Randy Leonard and Dan Saltzman. Mayor Sam Adams and Commissioner Amanda Fritz were absent.