The City Council unanimously approved an ordinance on Wednesday, June 30, calling for six new city-approved homeless Safe Rest Villages to be created throughout Portland by this fall.
"While affordable housing is the goal, what the city needs right now is a point of entry response for those experiencing homelessness now," said Commissioner Dan Ryan, who submitted the ordinance.
According to the ordinance, the villages would provide services that include "sanitation, hygiene, case management, security, and most importantly, dignity and stability."
The locations have not yet been chosen. Although city bureaus were directed to submit lists of properties they own that could be used for them by June 30, the list has not yet been released.
Ryan oversees the Portland Housing Bureau and is the council's liaison to the Portland-Multnomah County Joint Office of Homeless Services. He has requested $20 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act funds to pay for the project. The council will vote on that and other rescue plan act funding requests later.
The proposal was also supported by Multnomah County Commissioner Sharon Meieran and Marisa Espinoza, public policy coordinator for Northwest Pilot Project, which helps low-income seniors secure housing.
Ryan's proposal also set priorities for cleaning up existing, non-approved homeless camps. Some homeless advocates worried that will lead to more camps being swept. That prompted Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty to say, "What we heard from the public today was a lot about how these (camp cleaning) processes worked in the past and people's fears about what could happen if we aren't intentional about implementing this policy in humane, people-centered ways. We must hold each other accountable."
Among other priorities, the Homelessness and Urban Camping Impact Reduction Program that is tasked with clearing homeless camps on public property is directed to avoid sweeping camps defined as "low-impact" that are at least:
• 150 feet away from an elementary or middle school.
• 100 feet away from a high school.
• 150 feet away from a child care facility or preschool.
• 50 feet away from a park property line.
• 10 feet away from a residential building.
• 10 feet away from the main entrance or emergency exit of a commercial building.
• Outside a wildfire hazard area.
• Outside an area that's been zoned as environmental overlay, scenic overlay, natural area, or flood hazard area by the city.
The ordinance also acknowledges that Portland has experienced a significant increase in the number of people living in tents, makeshift structures, vehicles and "other places not meant for human habitation" over the past decade.
"While housing is ultimately the solution to the houselessness crisis, it is important to recognize that the development of transitional and supportive housing takes time, and that additional actions must be taken to meet the more immediate needs of the houseless population," the ordinance reads.
According to the ordinance, the Shelter to Housing Continuum Project previously approved by the council amended the zoning code "to authorize and regulate certain types of Outdoor Shelters to better meet the needs of those experiencing houselessness."
A number of city-approved, managed camps already exist. They include one near Union Station in Northwest Portland, two in inner Southeast Portland, Dignity Village in Northeast Portland, the Kenton Women's Village and the St. Johns Village in North Portland and Right 2 Dream Too, located near the Moda Center.
The ordinance can be found here.
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