Portland eyes open spaces as temporary shelter sites

Multnomah County

The Shelter to Housing Continuum Project aims to change city codes to expand shelter and housing options

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Portland City Council is discussing a proposal that would allow temporary shelters in open spaces such as parks and many residents are voicing their concerns.

The Shelter to Housing Continuum Project would expand shelter and housing options throughout the city by changing zoning codes to allow for more managed homeless shelters so organizations and nonprofits can provide hygiene services, trash collection and wrap-around social services. The current proposal would allow temporary shelters in open spaces for no more than 180 days.

Portland’s state of housing emergency declared in 2015 will expire on April 4. City officials say this project will help make access to build more group homes and affordable housing.

Most Portlanders agree that their neighbors deserve dignity, self-determination, and safety. They want their neighbors to have these things regardless of whether they are housed or unhoused, and they know that systems for sheltering have not, historically, guaranteed those things.

The 2015 housing emergency temporarily reduced barriers to creating safe, decent shelter for those in need. That emergency expires next month, which means the barriers will return unless City Codes are changed. Shelter to Housing makes those changes, and expands and diversifies possible locations for shelters.

Commissioner Rubio supports the policy and wants to create space where she and her colleagues can have more discussion about it and can hear from the community. Her hope is that continued community input will clarify dimensions of the proposal and help it reach its best possible form.

Commissioner Carmen Rubio’s office

Mayor Ted Wheeler said, “To be clear, this project is not about legalizing unsanctioned camping — it’s about removing barriers to building more facilities managed by public agencies and reliable nonprofit partners.”

But many people shared their concerns with City Council during a public hearing Wednesday. Residents are concerned about how the open spaces will be utilized. People living in east Portland are especially worried there could be a disproportionate number of shelters in their area.

“The concern for us is that I don’t think it was mal-intended but I think there are going to be some unintended consequences unless some modifications go along with this proposal,” said Arlene Kimura with the Hazelwood Neighborhood Association.

Denis Theriault with the Multnomah County Joint Office of Homeless Services said there are many factors to consider when choosing a site. He said, “Some people have seen that map that is out there that sort of shows all the spots that land use would allow a shelter to go for us that does not tell us where a shelter should, could or would go. We have a different process, we look at where there is unmet need. We also look at where we already have shelters, so we don’t want to concentrate shelters in anyone part of the community.”

The City of Portland operates about 1,400 shelter beds and has a limited budget that requires leaders to be strategic in the placement of those beds, Theriault said. “We are not going to open shelters on every block, we don’t have the budget for that,” he said.

“Really, the story of our shelters is one of warm relationships with the community,” said Theriault. “We think that having shelters in the community is the best practice that helps folks gain some stability. Don’t want folks to lose their community, just because they lost their housing.”

Kimura said she’s concerned code changes to make room for more shelters won’t address the need many houseless people have for “wrap-around services.”

“It is neither respectful nor dignified to say ‘well I gave you housing, you should be happy you got something.’ It is rude and I feel very strongly that if you don’t provide services as well as a continuum for people so they can transition more gracefully into housed position, you’re are setting them up to fail,” said Kimura.

Commissioners are now considering making an amendment to see how open spaces can be better used. City Council hopes to vote on the proposal by the end of the month. Wednesday marked the first hearing and those who didn’t get time to speak will be able to testify on March 24.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Twitter News Widget

Trending Stories