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Hales: Portlanders should tolerate more homeless camping


PORTLAND TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO - More homeless people are predicted to be camping in Portland as the city and its partners work to build more affordable housing.Mayor Charlie Hales says more homeless people will be sleeping on sidewalks, unpaved streets, unused city properties and private parking lots in the future.

The increased camping will happen as Portland and its partners work to fund more shelters, transitional programs and affordable housing projects that are intended to reduce the number of homeless in coming years. The increase may include 20 to 25 semi-permanent camp sites throughout town.

"We want to live in a beautiful, livable city with a high quality of life, but we have a lot of people that are on the streets and need help," Hales said at the end of a City Council work session Monday afternoon primarily on new homeless camping policies.

No public testimony was allowed at the work session, which was taken up mostly by a presentation by Hales' chief of staff, Josh Alpert, on the new camping policies.

Some neighborhood association leaders have expressed alarm in recent months over the apparent increase in the number of homeless campers on city properties, especially in North Portland where two city-sanctioned camps have spring up in the Overlook Neighborhood. Residents near the Springwater Trail in Southeast Portland also expressed concern at a Thursday community meeting about the increase in homeless camping along the popular commuting and recreation corridor.

Alpert admitted the city has not done enough outreach to neighbors and promise that would improve in the future. Regardless of the response, however, he said most routine homeless sweeps have stopped and outlined the following four locations where small groups of campers are now being allowed between 9 p.m. and 7 a.m.:

• City sidewalks, except for those marked for high pedestrian traffic, providers the campers do not pitch tents or fully block them.

• Unused city rights of way and other "remnant" properties, where tents can be be pitched.

• Parking lots owned by churches and other nonprofit organizations that agree to allow people to sleep in vehicles.

In addition, Alpert said the city is working on finalizing a process for allowing "structured organized camping" on properties overseen by nonprofit organizations with experience serving the homeless. Such camps must follow guidelines that include codes of conduct and noise restrictions. Structures may eventually including small "pods" designed to survive catastrophes, such as the large earthquake expected to strike the Portland area in coming years.

Alpert said neighborhood associations are being asked to help identify locations where such camps can be established. The city would provide water, sanitation, garbage and storage services to help reduce conflicts with surrounding residents, Alpert said.

Although it was not explored in detail during the work session, an example of such a "structured" camp is the Right 2 Dream Too homeless camp in Old Town, which is operated by a nonprofit organization. The council is scheduled to consider relocating the camp from its current location at Northwest 4th Avenue and Burnside Street to a city-owned parcel at Southeast Third Avenue and Harrison Street on Feb. 18.

Alpert was joined at various parts of his presentation by staff members from other public agencies and nonprofit organizations that supported the homeless camping properties. No neighborhood representatives or any other members of the public were invited to speak.

A few hours before the work session, the Overlook Neighborhood Association (OKNA) released a statement saying the chairs of the boards of other neighborhood associations in North Portland protested the city's handling of its decision to allow two homeless camps along North Greeley and North interstate. The statement said the chairs criticized the city for the lack of public process on the apparent homeless camping policy changes.

“Residents of the Overlook Neighborhood appreciate the support of our fellow North Portlanders,” OKNA’s Chair Dannielle Herman said. “Portland faces a homelessness crisis. All neighborhoods must demand a serious strategy from the City that has been lacking so far.”

You can read the statement here.

The council is scheduled to receive a presentation on other efforts to address the homeless and housing affordable at 9:30 a.m. next Tuesday. The Feb. 16 work session will include an update by the Portland Housing Bureau on the plan developed by the city, Gresham, Multnomah County and Home Forward (the former Housing Authority of Portland) to create more shelters, transitional programs and affordable housing projects.

Hales has pledged to include $20 million towards the effort in the next city budget, and Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury has promised to find $10 more.