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Neighborhood coalitions seek consensus on homeless camps

PORTLAND TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO - Neighborhood leaders are trying to figure out how to respond to the City Council's apparent willingness to allow more homeless camps.Neighborhood leaders are working on a unified response to the City Council’s apparent new policy to allow more homeless camps in Portland.

Draft proposals were discussed by the chairs and directors of the city’s seven Neighborhood Coalition offices at their monthly meeting Nov. 12. The most radical was identifying sites within the boundaries of each coalition for campsites and small-scale shelters.

No decisions were made about any of the proposals, which were drafted over the previous month by a work group of employees from different coalition offices. They will be discussed again at the group’s next meeting, which is scheduled for Dec. 10.

According to Southeast Uplift Chair Robert McCullough, the work group was appointed after some residents in Southeast and North Portland questioned the city’s approach to new homeless camps.

One is the Right 2 Dream Too camp, which the council is planning to move from Old Town to newly purchased property near the Oregon Rail Heritage Center. The other is a newer camp the city is allowing to remain on city-owned property near Overlook Park.

According to McCullough, both decisions were reported in the media before the city consulted with the associations that represent the neighborhoods where the properties are located. Upset residents complained at subsequent meetings of the associations’ boards of directors, and at meetings of the boards of the coalition offices that assist them.

“It’s been very time-consuming,” McCullough says.

The work group was appointed in October to help the coalition boards respond to the complaints. One goal is to determine if there is a comprehensive response to the city allowing even more camps in different neighborhoods in the future. Such a possibility was discussed when the council proclaimed a State of Housing Emergency in October.

The work group drafted three proposals, beginning with including people without houses among the “historically under-represented communities” to be served by the coalition offices and the city’s Office of Neighborhood Involvement, which funds them.

The second proposal calls for a public information campaign on the issue of homelessness, including who makes up the city’s homeless population and what various agencies are doing about it. “This effort is intended to build the necessary foundation for community and local governments to collaboratively create solutions,” it reads.

The third — and potentially most controversial — proposal calls on each of the seven coalition areas to acknowledge that homeless camps currently exist within their boundaries and to identify sites where they should be located.

“To avoid people feeling taken by surprise or powerless, we would take a proactive approach to recognizing that houseless people are part of neighborhoods and that there may be sites that exist that would meet the needs of houseless folks and of other neighbors,” it reads.

The coalition chairs and directors have not yet decided which, if any, of the policies to recommend. They would need to be approved by the boards of all seven neighborhood coalition offices to carry any weight.