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The 'safe camping pilot encampment' in Forest Grove would have up to eight campsites.

PMG PHOTO: WADE EVANSON - A camp off Highway 47 near Forest Grove is on Washington County land.The Forest Grove City Council is considering creating campsites on B Street designated for homeless residents.

The "safe camping pilot encampment" would have up to eight campsites, which would be managed by the city government.

Forest Grove is the latest community in the Portland area where policymakers are looking at opening a managed camp, part of regional efforts to respond to growing concerns from residents and businesses about homelessness.

City Councilor Kristy Kottkey said the goal would be to have a temporary camp managed by Forest Grove and nonprofit partners, where campers can connect to city, county and nonprofit resources to move toward permanent housing.

"I support the idea. I think yes, we already have campers here, so we can improve the situation by providing something temporary," Kottkey told Pamplin Media Group.

She added, "If we just focus on campsites, though, that's not going to help people transition. My long-term vision for the city would be every single person is connected directly with a service provider that has them moving toward housing."

Elsewhere in Washington County, Beaverton and Hillsboro are also moving toward opening city-run shelters. Portland already operates several managed camps, and Hillsboro opened one last year.

Currently, Forest Grove does not directly fund any homeless services, relying on Washington County and nonprofits. There is a regulated campsite off Highway 47 just outside the city on county land.

Kottkey said she is hopeful the council will take action on the pilot encampment or other policies related to homelessness this summer.

The Forest Grove City Council is also considering not allowing camping on city property, although the legality of that policy in Washington County isn't quite clear.

In a landmark case out of Boise, Idaho, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in 2018 that cities can't criminally prosecute people for sleeping in public places if there are no shelter beds available.

Washington County has about 144 year-round shelter beds at converted motels in Aloha, Forest Grove and Hillsboro, as well as room vouchers at local hotels.

In 2020, the Boise legal precedent was furthered by another federal judge who ruled the Southern Oregon city of Grants Pass also couldn't apply civil penalties, fines and other restrictions to campers.

Also in Oregon, House Bill 3115, which goes into effect July 1, 2023, requires local ordinances related to camping to be "objectively reasonable as to time, place and manner with regards to persons experiencing homelessness."

According to a guide published this week by the Oregon League of Cities, legally, city officials must provide at least 72-hour notice of intent to remove a homeless person's established camp site with notices being posted at entry point into the campsite.

The guide also says cities cannot punish somebody for sitting, sleeping, or lying on public property when that person has no place else to go.

The Forest Grove City Council is hosting a listening session at 10 a.m. Saturday, June 18, at the city auditorium at 1915 Main St. There will be another virtual meeting about potential city action related to homelessness at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, June 21.

"We're trying to listen. Everyone involved has a lot of emotion and a lot of frustration. There's also a lot of misunderstandings and a lot of misinformation," Kottkey said. "But a common thread we've seen is everybody we've talked to, people in camps, people working on the ground with this, we see a common theme that we all want to make this better for everyone."


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