Oregon City commissioners vote 3-2 on homeless permit
Oregon City again debated the need to balance homeless services with neighborhood concerns as commissioners voted 3-2 on Jan 19 to extend permission for Father's Heart Street Ministry to operate an emergency warming shelter for the rest of the winter.
Father's Heart wanted to operate its overnight warming shelter through April, but city commissioners decided to only allow permission through March 31.
By unanimous vote on Aug. 18, city rejected a bid by Father's Heart to continue operating a warming shelter permanently at Washington and 12th streets. Although they denied a permanent permit, commissioners passed another annual emergency resolution in November to allow Father's Heart to provide temporary nighttime emergency warming shelter on its current site, when the temperature is forecast to fall below 33 degrees, including wind chill.
Temporary permission was only granted through half of the winter, as commissioners hoped to put pressure on Father's Heart to come back in January with a completed good-neighbors agreement before city officials approved the rest of the emergency ordinance through the end of March. City Commissioner Denyse McGriff is part of a committee reviewing the draft good-neighbor agreement, and she said that Feb. 10 is the committee's next meeting date.
"It's not perfect; it's just a starting place," she said. "There are some corrections and some things that needed to be added to it."
City Commissioner Adam Marl, who voted against the March 31 extension along with Commissioner Frank O'Donnell, said that he requested in November that the city bifurcate the timeline for this winter's emergency approval of the Father's Heart warming shelter so that the city could come back in January having seen progress on the good-neighbor agreement.
"I recognize that there has been progress, but it's been tangential to the issues we've been discussing for the last few months," Marl said.
Father's Heart Board President Marty Gant has previously said that drug use, 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.
Marl said it shouldn't have been a lot to ask for the commission to see the written agreement addressing issues identified in August when the city denied a conditional use permit, which gave the parties more than four full months to see substantial progress on an agreement.
"It was a lot to ask," McGriff said. "There were a number of people who were involved in drafting this."
Discussions got a bit of a late start due to people's schedules, said McGriff, who asked whether state guidelines for decreased capacity limits due to COVID would affect the 49-person shelter capacity of Father's Heart. Oregon City Police Chief Jim Band said shelters are exempt from some COVID restrictions, although Father's Heart Street Ministry had to close for a few days due to an outbreak.
Two other controversial discussions related to Father's Heart are continuing among city commissioners, who expressed some disagreement about whether the city should provide up to $500,000 in pass-through funding from the federal government for the homeless service center's relocation. In the long list of reasons city commissioners denied the application by Father's Heart was the city's determination that the center's location would be better suited near state and county's services for low-income clients that are miles away on Oregon City's hilltop.
Oregon City will receive $8.29 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds, resulting in an additional $690,000 beyond the original estimate. In August, the city received approximately 50% ($4.14 million) of the total award from the federal government.
Another source of controversy related to Father's Heart is a mandate from last year's Oregon Legislature that cities allow emergency shelters with less consideration as to whether these shelters make sense under land-use laws. City staff said that House Bill 2006 temporarily allowed certain qualifying providers to provide emergency shelters in existing buildings or on vacant lands without the need for any land-use approval, except for natural resource or geologic hazard overlays.
City commissioners unanimously decried the state mandate, saying that the legislature's overreach into city business constituted a violation of the city's rights to home rule. City officials considered challenging a move by Father's Heart to obtain permission for its emergency shelter under HB2006 based on "unreasonable risk to public health or safety."
City attorneys have warned commissioners that there would be some legal risk in such a challenge against Father's Heart, and its unclear how far commissioners would be willing to go in pressing their case. City officials plan to bring back revised criteria for approval of HB2006 permits for further review by commissioners.
Father's Heart has been serving no- and low-income people in the nearby area since 2012. City commissioners said in 2020 that 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.
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