Portland is one step closer to creating six city-sanctioned outdoor homeless shelters.
The city council unanimously approved an ordinance Wednesday to kick off the establishment of ‘safe rest villages’ — outdoor shelters on city property where people experiencing homelessness can safely camp and receive basic services. The outdoor villages will be equipped with bathrooms, laundry, showers and case management services provided by the county, according to Commissioner Dan Ryan, who spearheaded the ordinance.
The council has not yet decided where the six villages will be located. City bureaus were asked to give commissioners a list of usable property by Wednesday. According to a slideshow Ryan presented to council, the city will start building the six camps in September and they will be paid for, at least partially, with $20 million in federal coronavirus relief dollars. He aims to have them built by the end of the year.
Ryan said the hope is that these camps serve as an entry point for people living on the streets to access services and, down the road, permanent housing — the kind of assistance he said might have saved his brother, who was chronically homeless.
“Tim perished in a public restroom with a bus pass, 54 cents, the clothes on his back and a bottle of vodka in November of 2013,” said Ryan. “What if he could have entered a village and met with caring individuals to guide him to mental health services?”
The ordinance also clarified city policy on homeless camp removals, codifying what types of encampments were likely to be removed by the city’s Homelessness and Urban Camping Impact Reduction Program and which could remain.
According to the ordinance, certain campsites will be “deprioritized.” These include camps that don’t present a significant public health risk — considered “low-impact” by the city — and are at least 10 feet away from the entrances of businesses and homes. (This rule does not apply if the building is a school).
“This ordinance creates clear standards by which Portland residents experiencing houselessness can expect to rest safely without fear or intervention by city entities,” said Ryan.
But some homeless advocates who testified Wednesday said they feared the new proposal would pave the way for the city to clear out more encampments.
“In looking at this proposal, we’re concerned it may actually lead to a substantial increase in removal of encampments,” said Marisa Espinoza, public policy coordinator for the NW Pilot Project, which assists low-income seniors in Multnomah County.
Sabina Urdes, with the East Portland Collective, said they felt that city leaders were sugar-coating the policy as a solution to homeless, when, in reality, they believed it would allow the city to fast track the removal of campsites. Under the ordinance, the city’s urban camping team is not required to get permission from a city bureau to clear a campsite on their land.
“Until we can provide housing for people without barriers, can we not make it impossible for them to survive,” said Urdes. “... There are no kind sweeps.”
Ryan said the proposal had been worked on in collaboration with Street Roots, the Oregon Law Center, neighborhood associations, and the city-county Joint Office of Homeless Services, among other stakeholders.