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The Portland City Council is scheduled to decide whether to allow authorized shelters and camps in more parts of town on March 31.

PMG FILE PHOTO - The St. Johns Village that was built in a church parking lot in North Portland is an example of a sanctioned homeless shelter.The Portland City Council has promised it won't authorize sanctioned homeless shelters — including camps — in natural areas, such as Portland parks and golf courses.

Mayor Ted Wheeler and the commissioners made the promise during a public hearing on the Street to Shelter Continuum project Wednesday, March 24. Temporary sanctioned shelters would have been allowed under the version of the project recommended by the appointed Planning and Sustainability Commission on Jan. 26.

Public opposition to sanctioned shelters in natural areas surfaced since the commission made the recommendation. Those who testified and wrote letters opposing the concept included former Parks Commissioner Amanda Fritz.

The council said homeless residents could be allowed to stay in parking lots and community centers at parks, however. And parks could still be used in an emergency, like a natural disaster.

A number of neighborhood groups, including the Multnomah Neighborhood Association, opposed the idea of allowing camping in the city's parks.

In a letter to the council, the neighborhood group argued Portland has enough undeveloped land to use for temporary shelter, without needing to resort to parks or scenic areas.

"Allowing shelters in public open space removes that space from

use for intended park purposes by everyone else," Maria Thi Mai, chair of the Multnomah Neighborhood Association, wrote on behalf of the group.

"Increasingly, Portland residents live in spaces with no yard or outdoor area whatsoever. As our population increases and densifies, the role of parks, natural areas and trails becomes essential. The need for even more parks and open space will be critical to maintain our region's livability," the letter states.

Wheeler stressed that the new shelters must be approved by the city and sponsored by a nonprofit or community organization.

The project is intended to allow sanctioned shelters and camps to be sited in all parts of town. East Portlanders have expressed concern that a disproportionate percent of the news ones would be located in their part of town. A map prepared by the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability, which is staffing the project, showed more potential sites in East Portland because it has more undeveloped property than other parts of town.

Much of the project will permanently lift zoning restrictions that have been temporarily suspended under the housing state of emergency declared by the council. Despite that, Wheeler said he would ask the council to extend the state of emergency during its March 31 meeting.

You can read a previous Portland Tribune story on the issue here.


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