Why neighbors oppose church homeless proposal
King of Kings Lutheran Church (KOK), 5501 S.E. Thiessen Road, in a rural residential neighborhood zoned R-10 in unincorporated Clackamas County, applied for a temporary permit to allow a "Safe Overnight Shelter" (SOS) program; the county approved the permit. SOS provides safe overnight shelter alternatives for homeless individuals and families. The pilot program allows up to three vehicles to park in the KOK parking lot from 6 p.m.-8 a.m. No visitors will be allowed. KOK will provide resources, such as a porta-potty, handwashing station and trash receptacles; personal items must be stored in the respective vehicles. Participants will be vetted by Clackamas County and KOK, with additional vetting and services provided by Providence Better Outcomes Through Bridges (BOB) and the Metropolitan Alliance for the Common Good (MACG).
The BOB program was created by Providence Health and Services and is funded by Clackamas County. BOB is designed to provide a "...transitional housing and wellness plan for individuals with a minimum of 20 Emergency Department visits within 12 months or six visits within six weeks and a behavioral health and/or substance use condition."
I am a KOK neighbor and am opposed to the SOS program. Most of my neighbors agree. Here are my objections and concerns:
KOK is in the middle of a low-density residential area, with nearly all properties single-family homes. Why place homeless car campers where there is no support? Where will the campers go when they have to leave KOK in the morning? I worry about KOK becoming an attractive place to park during the day on streets by the church. Cars, vans and small campers will be allowed. When a vehicle breaks down, then what?
The application for the temporary permit claimed that the SOS program had to be located at KOK because there are no reasonable alternatives. Seriously? The county owns huge swaths of property, and Providence has thousands of parking spaces — secure and close to medical support — where homeless could park at night.
The vehicles parked at KOK will be unsupervised and unmonitored. This is a major problem for the neighborhood. KOK has suggested that a security service would patrol the area sometime during the night to ensure compliance with their rules. I do not believe that an intermittent "drive-by" can adequately provide for the safety and security of both the homeless and the neighbors. Without professional security onsite at all times during the night, I believe the parking area will be a problem waiting to happen. KOK has stated that someone would be "on call" if any problems surface. That seems to me to be an after-the-fact or reactive tactic, not a solution to the problem.
Don't forget that the safety and security of both the participants and the neighbors is important. While there is good reason to worry about noise, arguments, trespass, littering, drug use, etc., negatively affecting our area; the homeless themselves may be victims of malfeasance. A woman I know lives about five houses away from KOK. She told me a harrowing tale of squatters who took over the property next to hers. She went through hell (with little help from the sheriff's office, by the way) trying to bring peace back to her home. She has discovered men passed out on her property. One point she emphatically made: "You'd be surprised at what happens at three in the morning on Thiessen Road!" Sadly, our area can be quite dangerous at night. If anything happened to one of the SOS participants, who is responsible?
The proposal includes conditions of use and a code of conduct. They are separate policy statements, but are not integrated together. Basically, there are no specific consequences for bad behavior. KOK talks about "mediating" problems; what does that mean? The neighborhood may suffer; KOK will not. Who is a neighbor? The church building is physically located in our neighborhood. With one exception, however, none of the congregants live close to the church, as far as I know. Most live miles away — miles away from any damage to their quality of life. It's a bit galling to have outsiders threaten our neighborhood livability.
How are participants chosen? Outside of declaring that "vetting" would be done by the county, KOK and BOB, few details about the screening process have been explained. I understand that screening for felonies and sex crimes is involved. What about drugs and behavioral issues? The Providence "Better Outcomes Through Bridges" (BOB) program will work together with KOK in implementing SOS. I believe one — or more — of the three campers allowed would come through their "vetting" process. The staffer for BOB is paid via county funds, I am told at $87,000/year. BOB seeks to "place" individuals who are "complex needs patients" as I defined earlier. Are these individuals really suitable to be left alone at night in a parking lot? If someone "goes off their meds" or "experiences a mental crisis," who is responsible for any problems? In addition, my sense from meetings I have attended is that problems with SOS will be at a very low priority for the sheriff's office. What will a deputy do if called to KOK? Give a warning? Issue a ticket? Law enforcement will effectively mean nothing for the neighborhood.
Are there some KOK neighbors who might support SOS? Perhaps, but I cannot conceive of any benefit to the neighborhood by adversely introducing a transient population into our area. Of course I do not want any homeless activity in "my backyard." And, please be honest: would you?
What prevents KOK from becoming a nexus of nighttime activity? Word spreads fast, other homeless vehicles may park on Thiessen, not on KOK property, and take advantage of the porta-potty and other resources available.
What happens to car campers in the middle of winter? Try sleeping in a car when the temperatures reach down into the thirties — or lower. Pure misery. Is KOK really helping people when the cold weather comes? Will there be any children involved?
Perhaps you might research some past efforts involving SOS. Check the experience Oregon City had with the Prince of Life Church; it failed. How about the Moreland Presbyterian Church in Sellwood? I think if you investigate, you will discover that successful overnight parking programs nearly always include onsite professional security, and fencing and other barriers to protect neighbors and the campers themselves.
What would mark the end of SOS? Is the desired end result here a permanent homeless car camp? I understand that Commissioner Paul Savas is a strong advocate for Conestoga-type structures built "down the road" after zoning changes allow a far more intensive homeless facility. Much of this "development" will happen at our local churches. It seems that the county intends to spread the homeless throughout the area. The realities of real estate are clear: With all other factors being more or less equal, no "typical" buyer would choose a home proximate to a homeless camp versus another equal choice without a camp. Home values will suffer; real estate economics can be ruthless but valid.
There are several individuals in the neighborhood who have researched the KOK proposal and drilled down to discover what is really behind the project. It is certainly not the milk of human kindness, rather a bureaucratic juggernaut intent on forcing SOS into our neighborhood and beyond. We have a lineup of players who all want the homeless brought into our lives: Clackamas County, Metropolitan Alliance for the Common Good, Providence BOB and KOK. I suspect a good chunk of tax money is also directly or indirectly involved in fueling this project. Andrew Yaden, the county staffer charged with approving or denying the temporary permit, is documented as an enthusiastic backer of SOS. When he approved the permit, nobody had any doubts about the outcome. The only ones who oppose this program are the people who live here! Don't neighborhood residents have a right to determine their own area's livability and quality of life?
Moreover, this is a pilot project. KOK is only the first of several proposed church locations that the county will partner with to create many more homeless camps. The northern part of unincorporated Clackamas County is the target. Politically, forcing the establishment of these camps against neighborhood opposition will be easiest in this area. "Coming soon, to a church near you..."
So here we are, neighbors protesting against a church who wants to "do good" for the homeless. One neighbor has paid the county fee to appeal the temporary permit approval. If you come to KOK on some Sunday mornings during services, you will see a bunch of folks outside the church carrying signs which urge the passing cars to honk their horns if they oppose SOS. I can assure you the cacophony of horns, shouts and air horns is loud and obtrusive. I am sure the congregants inside hear the racket; they must be very unhappy. I have heard about potential legal action. That certainly won't make anyone happier.
But I also remember a time many years ago, when KOK helped some families in need by offering shelter inside their building. My wife and I noticed the comings and goings, and it was no big deal. Out of sight, out of mind. Most of us believe in charity towards those less fortunate; there are many ways proven to help without creating rancor and vitriol. KOK says they don't have the volunteers available to duplicate their past in-church program. That's too bad. Perhaps if KOK is willing to explore other ways to help the homeless, we can all come together to offer a helping hand. I am sure that many of the neighbors now protesting KOK would be glad to have a discussion about other types of efforts that would assist those in need. Can we drop the SOS proposal and come together to talk?
Richard F. Jaskiel, an Oak Grove resident, serves on the board of the Renewable Energy Scholarship Foundation and is a volunteer for Start Making A Reader Today (SMART). An appeal hearing of the KOK proposal is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Thursday, Sept. 19. Any interested person may attend the hearing to listen or testify. Hearings are held in the Development Services Building Auditorium at 150 Beavercreek Road, Oregon City.
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