PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, alongside other city leaders, announced the first possible location of a temporary alternative shelter site during a Thursday press conference, as part of his plan to build six mass homeless camps across the city.
Wheeler says his five-resolution plan is now in the implementation phase, noting his goal is to phase out unsanctioned camping.
“I know people are tired of hearing us talk about addressing this issue, they expect action and today is about direct action we are taking to move this project forward,” Wheeler said.
Wheeler announced the first site will likely be at 1490 Southeast Gideon Street in Portland’s central eastside. He said the city does not have a signed lease on the property at this time but does have an agreement in principle. Wheeler said he is confident the city will secure the lease soon and plans to have the site running by summer.
“Initially, this site will have up to 100 tenants, they can hold up to 150 individuals. This location will help provide safe designated camping locations for homeless Portlanders who then can access basic services like food, restrooms, showers, laundry, electricity and storage facilities,” Wheeler said.
The site will be managed by California-based non-profit Urban Alchemy, which runs shelters in California and Texas, Wheeler said. The mayor said he joined commissioners Carmen Rubio, Dan Ryan and county staff on trips to San Fransico to review Urban Alchemy-managed sites.
“The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. That was my own experience as well,” Wheeler said — adding the non-profit will likely run more than one of Portland’s sites.
The Gideon Street site is located near public transportation and will be include trash receptacles, a perimeter fence and security 16 hours per day, Wheeler said.
“These sites will have rules. There will be no unsanctioned camping within 1,000 feet of this site, there will be no cooking or fires allowed. Alcohol and drug use will not be allowed in common areas or public spaces,” Wheeler added — noting weapons will be checked.
Additionally, community partners will work with city staff to perform physical, behavioral and mental health visits, Wheeler said.
The mayor explained his administration will work with community stakeholders and plans on hosting community events in the coming weeks to field questions or concerns about the site along with a hotline managed by Urban Alchemy to report concerns. According to the mayor, community stakeholders support the initiative — calling the sites “the humane approach.”
“Maintaining the status quo is not a compassionate response. Creating temporary alternative shelter sites is compassionate and the need is obvious to everyone,” Wheeler said.
“We can both create more affordable housing options and provide immediate services to those who are struggling to survive on our streets,” Wheeler said. “We can’t wait any longer and the action starts today on this new strategy.”
Officials shared in the press event that the campsite would have rules banning weapons and open gun use, but when asked, Wheeler said that there wouldn’t be any extra patrols in the area to enforce those rules.
Neighbors of the new camp’s location are concerned about problems that new neighbors might bring.
“Providing no extra patrols around that area then you’re simply asking for, you know, an issue to come,” said Thomas Forsyth. “I mean, you can see it coming. And that should be just common sense.”
Forsyth also shared that he was worried about the possibility of more campers moving to the neighborhood, and subsequently, more crime.
“I’ve been living here for 30 years,” said Forsyth. “I had never had anybody break into my backyard, any sort of crime at all. Just in the last 2 to 3 years, I’ve had multiple break-ins.”
The additional sites for his plan, Wheeler said, are in various negotiation phases and cannot be identified due to non-disclosure agreements. City Council has approved up to six sites.
During the press conference, Wheeler thanked Commissioner Ryan for co-sponsoring his plan which city council approved in November 2022.
In December 2022, Portland City Council voted to put $27 million towards Wheeler’s homeless plan.
The progress report comes after Governor Tina Kotek declared a homelessness state of emergency on her first day in office in January. The governor has also urged Oregon lawmakers to pass a $155 million spending package to address the homelessness and housing crisis — lawmakers have since tacked on additional policy, proposing a $200 million package.