Lack of nearby services dooms Oregon City homeless permit
Oregon City's move to deny a permit for a warming shelter puts pressure on Metro and Clackamas County officials to create a more comprehensive solution for the region's growing issue of homelessness.
During the latest heat wave in August, county officials opened the first 24-hour cooling center at the Development Services Building, 150 Beavercreek Road. As the city rejected a bid by Father's Heart Street Ministry to continue operating a warming shelter on Washington Street, Oregon City officials wondered whether the county could help open a 24-hour warming shelter. With the rejection of the permit, Father's Heart won't be able to provide a nighttime emergency warming shelter on the current site, when the temperature is forecast to fall below 33 degrees, including wind chill.
"It's not our problem as only Oregon City to solve," City Commissioner Denyse McGriff said. "We have a lot of work to do to help Father's Heart with an alternative."
Oregon City's rejection of the Father's Heart application came as a result of finding that the street ministry had failed to prove that the shelter was in a suitable location that wouldn't adversely affect the character of the surrounding neighborhood.
City commissioners said the Planning Department recommending approval of the permit hadn't done Father's Heart any favors by copying many of the application's assertions without doing additional research.
McGriff provided a long list of reasons to deny the application, including a claim by Father's Heart and city staff that the center was near other services. Although the city's transit center is nearby, the applicant and city staff provided no survey for how many homeless people traveled to the center by TriMet bus. Many of the state and county's services for low-income clients are miles away on Oregon City's hilltop.
Father's Heart has been serving no- and low-income people in the nearby area since the facility opened in 2012, according to the facility's Board President Marty Gant of Estacada. Father's Heart policies say that using drugs, being on the property before or after hours, or loitering in the surrounding areas of the property could jeopardize receiving services. Neighbors said those policies are frequently violated.
"I have a tremendous amount of respect for the neighborhood's concerns, but I have a tremendous amount of desire to fulfill the need that those people on the streets have," Gant said. "I'm willing and able to accommodate some of the problems that have been occurring."
Mayor Rachel Lyles Smith said her biggest struggle with rejecting the Father's Heart application was the homeless resource center's waste of $5,000 in application fees after commissioners had demanded that the facility apply for a permanent permit.
City commissioners set up the reckoning for Father's Heart by saying last year would be the final time elected officials would provide an emergency resolution to operate an overnight shelter each winter. Oregon City's Planning Department has determined that the Father's Heart day-use shelter is legally nonconforming and grandfathered in through a similar-use determination in 2016.
"I'm sure they feel like they've been jumping through hoops to try to get to a positive resolution, only to feel probably very defeated at this moment," she said.
The mayor predicted that some people might call commissioners "heartless" for denying the permit, but she said that denial was the first step in finding a better location for the shelter's clients and neighbors.
"This (decision) does weigh heavily, I think, for all of us, and I feel safe in speaking that all of us feel that way," she said.
Oregon City made a tentative unanimous decision to deny the application Aug. 18, and a final decision to deny the application is expected Sept. 15.
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