by: ESTACADA NEWS PHOTO: ISABEL GAUTSCHI - A walk beneath the Highway 211 bridge on a chilly November day reveals signs of habitation.Last year, Estacada drew headlines across the state when citizens petitioned the city to force a property owner to stop housing people in structures in her backyard.

That property owner, Ethel “Punki” McNamee, argued that she was providing sanctuary for people who would otherwise be homeless.

An assortment of news organizations pointed out that McNamee also was collecting rent from her tenants; approximately $3,000 a month combined from all tenants.

In March 2012, McNamee told the Estacada News that she did not make a profit off of the rental fees, but instead used the money to pay for utilities, food and other expenses.

“Her claim has been that she is opening her heart to the homeless, but she certainly can’t be renting out unsafe structures and then charging rent for them,” City Manager Bill Elliott was quoted in the same article.

McNamee’s home, which is across the street from Clackamas River Elementary, is classified as an R-1 property. Only one home — owned or rented — is allowed on the property.

Legally, McNamee may have up to six non-related people living with her at her home.

However, in March 2012, at least nine people were living with McNamee in her house or in structures in her backyard.

Some of those structures did not have electricity or running water.

City records show that officials first told McNamee and her late husband back in 1981 that a cabin on her property could not be used as a shelter .

Over the following 30 years, the city received numerous complaints of the high volume of people at the property and their conduct there.

Following the 2012 petition, the city of Estacada demanded that McNamee evict the tenants from the outbuildings in her yard.

The incident was widely reported through regional news outlets.

Reader comments on news websites ranged from hailing McNamee as a “saint” to reviling her as a “slum lord.”

McNamee challenged the city of Estacada in court, but a municipal judge ruled in favor of the city in April 2012.

“I had to throw nine people out in the pouring rain …” McNamee said. “I was very upset about it and still am.”

McNamee said she now has six people living with her in her home. Four pay rent.

A father and a son continue to live rent-free in the cabin on her property, but McNamee said she is legally required to evict them on Feb. 28, 2014.

McNamee’s use of her property as a makeshift homeless shelter sparked a discussion in Estacada as to the city’s responsibility toward the homeless.

Elliott said that to his knowledge there are no city-funded resources for the homeless in Estacada.

“It’s not something that we’ve dealt with,” he said. “We’re not equipped to deal with it, quite honestly.”

“The churches are typically reaching out to the homeless people,” said Pastor Richard Burson of Clackamas Valley Baptist Church.

Burson said his church has given out items such as food, tarps, hygiene kits and even shelter for a few days when contacted for help.

They also hold a free monthly breakfast at the Estacada Community Center.

For the last few years, Phil Johnston, a member of the Estacada Community Fellowship Church, has been running a warming shelter in the building next to the church when the weather drops below 32 degrees.

“We don’t get that many people that need that service,” Johnston said.

Johnston suspects that many homeless people head to Portland for shelter when the weather gets cold.

However, Johnston said that more and more people have been attending the Fellowship’s free Thursday dinners.

When the Fellowship first started holding the dinners in January 2013, they were sparsely attended.

Recent dinners have averaged 18 to 30 people.

The St. Aloysius Catholic Church of Estacada gives out boxes of food for $2 from noon to 2 p.m. the first and third Tuesday of every month.

“If they can’t pay they’re never refused a box of food. They go on our scholarship program,” said Linda Bagg of the church’s Marian Guild.

The food is acquired from the Oregon Food Bank, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul of Portland, donations from businesses and other area churches and funds raised through the St. Aloysius Parish.

Bagg said that more than 200 food boxes were given out on Tuesday, Nov. 19.

Until recently, the “blue bus” mobile kitchen came to Estacada in conjunction with the food box program to serve a free lunch on first and third Tuesdays.

Several other churches and community organizations in Estacada and Eagle Creek offer weekly meals or other programs.

The Estacada Area Food Bank, a non-profit organization, also provides food and services to homeless members of the community.

Estacada Mayor Brent Dodrill, who is a pastor at Estacada First Baptist Church, said that his own church is discussing making showers available for homeless.

“Those kind of things are good but they don’t solve the quote ‘homeless problem’ because I don’t think any of us have a place where they can stay indefinitely,” he said.

Finding shelter for the homeless, Dodrill said, is the biggest problem.

But it is a problem that is not unique to Estacada.

“I don’t want to downplay the problem, but I don’t think it’s somehow more of a problem for us then it would be for any other city,” Dodrill said.

In Clackamas County, there aren’t many places that could be considered “homeless shelters.”

The Annie Ross House of Milwaukie provides emergency shelter and transitional housing for homeless families with children.

The Annie Ross House is the only shelter for homeless families in Clackams County, and its space is limited.

It can accommodate five families in the emergency shelter and has six transitional housing units.

There is a waiting list for shelter there.

Clackamas Women’s Services has an emergency shelter for women and children fleeing abuse.

The shelter can hold 13 individuals or families, or about 27 people total, at any given time.

The location is confidential.

Angela Trimble of Northwest Housing Alternatives knows of no other homeless centers in Clackamas County beyond short-term warming centers.

The nearest homeless shelter for a single male adult would probably be in Portland or Gresham.

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