PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Portland City Council members say they’re trying to explore all options to better serve those experiencing houselessness, including the possibility of allowing temporary camps in the parking lots of public parks but not in the parks themselves.
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 camps. This would allow organizations and nonprofits to provide hygiene services, trash collection and wrap-around social services.
So far, the biggest sticking point in the proposal has been the idea to allow managed homeless camps in parks and other natural areas. Many residents have expressed concerns about how the open spaces will be utilized and whether some neighborhoods such as those in East Portland will end up hosting a disproportionate number of shelters.
The City Council is now talking about changing the proposal of temporary camps in parks to only allowing camps in the parking lot of a park. The current proposal defines “temporary” as up to six months per calendar year. A campsite could, in theory, remain in the same place from July to July of next year since the calendar resets on January 1.
Some worry the temporary campsites could become permanent. Under the proposal, managed temporary campsites could also be set up in the parking lots of golf courses and community centers. Some natural areas with natural resources like wetlands and streams would be exempt.
Linda Robinson, the co-chair of the East Portland Parks Coalition, said parks should be taken off the table altogether.
“Many people have stopped using the Springwater Corridor and the I-205 bike path because of all the camping along there so, I mean, even if it’s an organized, managed camp, it’s still there,” Robinson said.
But Eric Engstrom, the principal planner at the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability, countered that the city has not specifically proposed allowing temporary camps in parking lots, saying, “I think it’s just the council wanting to leave some options open for further exploration.”