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Homeless camping coming before City Council this week

Hearing will be held on moving Old Town camp to Southeast Portland for up to 10 years


PORTLAND TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO - Homeless camps, like this one along North Greeley Avenue, are becoming increasingly visible in Portland.The City Council will hold its first public hearing related to homeless camping since before declaring a housing state of emergency last year.

On Thursday, the council will consider moving the Right 2 Dream Too homeless camp from its current location under the Chinatown Gate at Northwest Fourth Avenue and Burnside to a city-owned gravel lot at Southeast Third Avenue and Harrison.

Among other things, the council will consider whether to allow the camp to stay at its new location for up to 10 years.

The hearing, which begins at 2 p.m. on Feb. 4, involves three documents that most be approved for the relocation to occur. One is an ordinance vacating a portion of the streets adjacent to the site. Another is a zoning confirmation letter saying the property will be used for community services. The third is a resolution affirming the council's intent to relocate the camp to the site.

The request before the council is to operate a camp where up to 100 homeless people can gather during the day and sleep overnight. It would be operated by the nonprofit organization created to run the camp in Old Town, commonly called R2DToo. The letter from the Bureau of Development Services refers to it as a "rest area/campground with tents and accessory structures."

The council agenda and documents are at www.portlandonline.com/auditor/index.cfm?c=26997&.

Although the only issue before the council is the relocation of the camp, the hearing is likely to be attended by Portlanders who want to testify on the apparent proliferation of homeless camping in the city in recent months. Camps have become increasingly visible in neighborhoods and along streets and public trails since Mayor Charlie Hales directed the police to only crack down when campers are committing crimes.

Saturday information meeting on R2DToo

An informational meeting on the relocation is scheduled for 10 a.m. to noon on Saturday, Feb. 1, at St. Philip Neri, 2408 S.E. 16th Ave. It will be attended by Hales and Commissioner Amanda Fritz, who has taken the lead in the relocation. The meeting notice said questions would be welcome but public testimony will not be allowed.

The relocation is being financed with approximately $846,000 paid by Old Town property owners to buy a parcel near Union Station from the city that had been considered for an earlier relocation site. The city used $254,044 to buy the Southeast Portland property from the Oregon Department of Transportation.

The relocation is opposed by business and neighborhood organizations in the area, including the Central Eastside Industrial Council.

"We do not believe that letting people camp outside is humane and that is not a suitable location. It is next to a plating company, above a busy street and railroad tracks, and far away from social services," says CEIC President Brad Malsin, the owner of Beam Development.

Camping, tensions are increasing

The meeting and upcoming votes are happening as tensions over homeless camping are increasing in the city. The most recent homeless count found more than 1,800 people in the city with no shelter. The city has since opened two temporary shelters with around 250 beds, and Multnomah County will open a homeless shelter for 130 women and children on Monday.

That still leaves over 1,400 unsheltered people.

The Overlook Neighborhood Association has been especially critical of the city allowing camping along North Greeley below Interstate Avenue. Portland officials have allowed dozens of people to camp on city-owned property in what is called Hazelnut Grove. The city moved other campers off adjacent property, but has allowed them to resettle on city-owned property next to Emanuel Hospital.

Some of those using the Springwater Corridor that connects to east Portland are complaining about an increase in homeless camping along the popular commuting and recreation link, especially between Southeast 82nd Avenue and Interstate 205. A growing number of walkers and bicyclists say they no longer feel safe using the public trail because of the growing number of homeless people living along it.

More recently, the board of directors of the McCormick Pier Condominiums along the west bank of the Willamette River in Northwest Portland locked the gates and blocked access to the riverside walkway in front of their units because of the increase in homeless people camping on it. City officials ordered them to reopen it because it is actually part of the public Willamette Greenway.

The increase in camping has prompted the Portland Business Alliance to launch an online campaign urging residents to pressure the City Council to find alternatives.

"We need more safe, indoor options for the individuals now camping on our sidewalks, under bridges and in our parks. And we need to address areas where unorganized campsites have sprung up, creating problems for nearby residents, businesses, shoppers and tourists. Portland is better than this," read a portion of a proposed email to the council as part of the "Portland Can Do Better" campaign.

The online campaign is at pdxcandobetter.com.

A previous Portland Tribune story about the city's new approach to homeless camping can be read at portlandtribune.com/pt/9-news/287494-164144-city-willing-to-explore-homeless-crisis-options.

KOIN News 6 contributed to this story.