City: Every Portland neighborhood could shelter homeless

Civic Affairs

New maps show some neighborhoods have more potential locations than others

FILE – In this Sept. 19, 2017, photo, a person cycles past tents set up along a pathway in Portland, Ore. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

PORTLAND, Ore. (PORTLAND TRIBUNE) — Every neighborhood in the city could accommodate additional sanctioned outdoor shelters for the homeless. Where they are located depends more on commitments to fund and operate them than geography, however.

Those are two takeaways from a series of neighborhood maps prepared for the volunteer citizen Planning and Sustainability Commission that is considering how to encourage more housing for the homeless in all parts of town.

The 11-member commission is scheduled to discuss the maps and could make final recommendations to the City Council on Tuesday, Jan. 26.

The work is being done as part of the Shelter to Housing Continuum Project. It is intended to rewrite existing city regulations to allow homeless shelters and sanctioned camps to be sited more quickly, including where they are currently prohibited, such as in commercial zones.

The maps were prepared at the request of commission member Chris Smith, who believes the new housing should be spread equitably throughout the city. Smith has wondered whether new shelters and camps needed to be allowed in open spaces and city parks to ensure that all neighborhoods qualify for a share of the new housing. He has not made such a proposal, however.

The maps indicate that up to 25 underdeveloped lots larger than 5,000 square feet currently are available in every neighborhood in the city, either under “clear and objective standards” or conditional use permits. Under the first category, far more underdeveloped lots are available in East Portland than any other part of the city. When conditional use permits are considered, even many neighborhoods in West Portland have at least 100 of them.

“Although availability is not equally distributed throughout the City, every neighborhood has at least some sites available for an outdoor shelter,” said a Jan. 22 memo accompanying the maps. It was prepared by the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability, which is staffing the project.

But availability alone does not guarantee that new shelters and sanctioned camps will be equitably distributed across the city. More important is how such properties are obtained, developed and operated.

One of four new maps showing where land for new homeless shelters and sanctioned campsites are available in Portland (Courtesy: City of Portland)

“The provision of outdoor shelters will not be limited by the supply of suitably zoned urban land. The impediment will be costs, the cost of purchasing land, the cost of development, and the cost of operations,” the memo said.

The commission is not proposing that the new housing be required or prohibited in any part of town. The council could consider the commission’s recommendations as soon as February.

The memo and maps can be found here.

The commission will meet from 5 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 26. More information about the meeting, including how to watch it online, can be found here.

You can learn more about the Shelter to Housing Continuum Project project here.

You can read a previous Portland Tribune story about the project here.

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