Officials hold a work session to try to find solutions regarding homeless campers.

PHOTO CREDIT: KOIN 6 - Beaverton City Council City of Beaverton officials spent much of Tuesday's City Council meeting in a work session where they grappled with the overnight camping issue that has arisen near the eastern edge of the city in recent weeks.

City Administrative Officer Randy Ealy said more and more calls are coming into City Hall regarding concerns about homeless people who are camping on public streets. One area at the intersection of Southwest Fifth Street and Western Avenue, near the Uwajimaya supermarket, has drawn particular attention; about 12 homeless families have begun camping there, with residents addressing the council last month to complain about the situation.

At Tuesday's work session, City Attorney Bill Kirby voiced the need for a full community conversation about overnight camping on public streets.

Beaverton officials have been reviewing ordinances about the issue from other Oregon cities, including Portland, Tigard, Wilsonville, Hillsboro, Cornelius, Durham, Banks, Salem and Eugene.

Mayor Denny Doyle, Council President Marc San Soucie, and Councilors Cate Arnold, Lacy Beaty and Mark Fagin discussed potential problems with each of the ordinances as they related to Beaverton's situation. Councilor Betty Bode was excused from the meeting.

Portland's ordinance is the most litigated, according to Kirby, because it actually criminalizes camping on public property — whereas in Eugene, people who are camping on public property are given the option to move to designated private properties, such as pre-determined church parking lots.

Community Vision Program Manager Holly Thompson provided insight about what types of issues the city faces and the challenges associated with them.

"Beaverton has made great strides in the last couple of years for social services," Thompson said. "Last year we opened the Severe Weather Center, and this year, we are expanding it for two additional months, which means there will be a shelter open in the county every night."

Thompson suggested the possibility of outreach workers partnering with law enforcement. She cited a city in the Midwest that has employed that program where there was a 42 percent decrease in homelessness when they used this type of system.

Beaverton Police Chief Jim Monger also participated in the work session. He said the police are trying to be as compassionate as possible.

Some of the ordinances in other cities include impounding vehicles where people are living.

"The last thing we want to do is remove people from their homes," Monger said. "The last thing we want to do is take people's property."

Monger acknowledged that residents are beginning to experience livability issues as a result of overnight campers. With overnight camps come issues with waste disposal and littering.

Fagin suggested working with Washington County, and San Soucie agreed.

"We need a cooperative effort with the county. We need to use tools and techniques that are more geographically correct for Beaverton," San Soucie said. "This is not one problem. It is a spectrum of issues."

Thompson said seven churches have now made commitments to assist homeless families through the Family Promise organization. But she said there are more people than there are services available and people get frustrated and give up when they are unable to get help. She said those in need might try to get help one month and be turned down and they don't realize there is help the next month. She stressed the need to build relationships and connections.

Responding to Portland's ordinance, Beaty said she could not get behind the idea of criminalizing sleeping in the street.

San Soucie said "at some point we have to have the ability to escalate the physical removal" of camp trailers.

Thompson said one of the barriers to getting people off the streets is affordable housing and the city is working on a strategy.

Doyle said he has met with 10 of the 12 area mayors to try to find solutions.

All agreed that fining people who do not have the ability to pay was likely not an effective or humane solution.

In other council business, Beaverton Police Department swore in five new patrol officers during the meeting and introduced three proclamations that included Indigenous Peoples Day, Library Week and Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

By Mandy Feder-Sawyer
Reporter, Beaverton Valley Times
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