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Mayor's office rejects neighborhood request to move homeless camp

KOIN 6 NEWS - The Hazelnut Grove homeless camp in North Portland is growing and splitting into separate communities.Mayor Charlie Hales' office is rejecting a request by the Overlook Neighborhood Association that the city move a growing homeless camp along North Greeley Avenue below Overlook Park.

The association made the request in a Dec. 3 letter to the City Council signed by chair Dannielle Herman. It said the city is allowing the camp to exist on city property and is not enforcing limits on the number of people using it that had been previously promised.

"Since sanctioning the initial 'temporary"' encampment at this location with a group of residents numbering fewer than 20, the City has failed to provide any meaningful boundary or population limits, nor safety and enforcement support for the residents. The number of campers on City property at the site has ballooned beyond the 25 originally discussed for the original camp. By some estimates there are now 55 to 75 residents on the site, most not part of the original group," the letter reads in part.

But asked for comment by the Portland Tribune, Josh Alpert, Hales' chief of staff, said, "Nobody should have to sleep outside, but until we have enough indoor beds for people, our goal and responsibility is to ensure that people have a safe place to sleep and basic human needs met. We are aware of the growth at Greeley, and are working quickly to make sure that it continues to be a safe, temporary place to sleep and continues to be a good neighbor."

Hales is representing Portland in Paris at a summit of mayors being held in conjunction with the U.N. Climate Conference.

The camp sprung up around the time the council declared a state of housing emergency in August. It apparently marked an easing in the normal sweeps of crowded homeless camps existing on city property by the police. Neighborhood Coalition Office leaders are trying to develop a unified response to the change.

The North Portland camp — known as Hazelnut Grove — has nearly doubled in size in the past two weeks, according to KOIN 6 News, which says it is splitting into two and maybe three separate communities. The station's most recent report can be seen at http://koin.com/2015/12/03/rules-hard-to-enforce-at-growing-n-greeley-camp/

Here is the full text of the association's letter:

December 3, 2015

Dear Mayor Hales and Commissioners Fritz, Novick, Fish and Saltzman:

The Overlook Neighborhood Association opposes the City of Portland's continuing to allow homeless camps located at the south end of the Overlook Neighborhood along N Greeley Avenue near N Interstate Avenue. OKNA initially had serious concerns about the camp. After meeting with campers and after Mayor Charlie Hales' office pledged that the camp would be managed responsibly, we took a wait-and-see stance. During the last couple of months, we sought to work with the City to make this a success. Unfortunately, the City has not delivered on its pledge nor engaged with the neighborhood in any meaningful way.

Since sanctioning the initial "temporary" encampment at this location with a group of residents numbering fewer than 20, the City has failed to provide any meaningful boundary or population limits, nor safety and enforcement support for the residents. The number of campers on City property at the site has ballooned beyond the 25 originally discussed for the original camp. By some estimates there are now 55 to 75 residents on the site, most not part of the original group.

The encampment is at the base of a steep bluff, and the site is not suitable to ongoing camping. Pooled water and mud surrounded tents and crude structures during recent rains. With temperatures dipping into the low 20s, winds whipping through the camp, and weeks of winter rain ahead, living conditions at the site are inhumane and entirely inappropriate for a City that claims to care about all of its residents.

City Hall has failed to communicate its plans and strategies with Overlook Neighborhood. Although the original intent was for a small campsite that would be self-regulating within a code of conduct, that did not last. Many new campers do not consider themselves beholden to the rules, and more arrive seemingly daily, often encouraged to go there by police, social groups and churches without any consideration of whether each person would be a suitable member of the camp. The result is conflicts between the campers and with neighbors, without the promised support from the City to address such problems.

Camp residents have been told by the City that they will not be moved during the winter, but the winter is precisely when they need adequate, safe, warm shelter from the elements. The pace at which the City is moving under the declared housing state of emergency is intolerable for the many people in North Portland and citywide living outside in this bitter weather.

The people struggling to survive the winter outdoors cannot wait for City Council to dither about developing a long-term strategy to address homelessness. If this truly is an emergency, the City must take emergency measures to provide shelter and services. OKNA strongly urges Portland to open emergency shelters throughout the city immediately.

In the meantime, the current short-term approach of allowing camping at the Greeley site has proven untenable. We ask that the City revoke the permission it has given to camp there and work with campers to find better alternatives throughout Portland without delay.

Sincerely,

Overlook Neighborhood Association Board

Dannielle Herman, Chair

KOIN 6 News contributed to this story.

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