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The federal agency is determining whether a managed homeless camp violates emergency management deed restrictions.

PMG PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Much of the parking lot of the Sears Armory is being used as a staging area for the Souttwest Capitol Highway Improvement Project.The Federal Emergency Management Agency is considering whether establishing a managed homeless camp at the Sears Armory in Southwest Portland violates its deed restrictions.

The U.S. Department of Defense donated the surplus property to the city of Portland in 2012. The deed requires that it be used "primarily for the purpose of providing emergency management services." Portland City Commissioner Dan Ryan has proposed that the parking lot be used as one of six Safe Rest Villages to house and provide services to the homeless.

Officials with the federal General Service Administration and city of Portland tell the Portland Tribune that FEMA currently is reviewing the proposal to determine whether it complies with the deed restriction. Ryan argues that housing the homeless is emergency management because the City Council has declared a housing emergency.

"GSA monitors the compliance by state or local public agencies regarding deed restrictions on properties conveyed by the U.S. government for emergency management purposes, and if necessary, seeks to remedy any issues of non-compliance," U.S. General Services Administration Branch Chief Monica Pech wrote in a Jan. 4 email. "However, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is the agency responsible for determining whether or not the city of Portland's proposed use is in accordance with emergency management use purposes as described in the 2012 Quitclaim Deed. FEMA is currently reviewing the city of Portland's proposed plan in order to determine if the plan is in accordance with emergency management purposes."

Heather Hafer, public information officer for the Portland Office of Finance and Management, said the city is aware of the FEMA review, but that no schedule has been announced for it to be completed.

The facility is officially called the Sgt. Jerome F. Sears United States Army Reserve Center and is at 2730 S.W. Multnomah Blvd. The Multnomah Neighborhood Association has requested a Type III Conditional Use Land Use Review of the proposed camp because the property is zoned for general employment. Hafer said such a review is not required because the proposed use is temporary.

"The Safe Rest Village use of the Sears Armory parking lot is a temporary use, and as such is under the temporary activities chapter of City Code. The Bureau of Development Services has confirmed that, given this will be a temporary use, it does not need conditional-use review, a public hearing or public notice, related to land use regulations," Hafer told the Tribune.

The deed restrictions describe emergency management as including, but not limited to: "emergency operations planning and support; risk assessment and mitigation; public outreach, training and education; emergency preparedness and response; decision making and policy planning; first responders training and exercises; logistics management; and recovery and rebuilding."

City officials originally said they would use the property as a heavy equipment staging area. In January 2011, then-Mayor Sam Adams told neighbors that basing such equipment there would help the west side of Portland recover faster from a natural or man-made disaster, especially if bridges are compromised.

Then and now, all of the city's heavy equipment is stored on the east side of the Willamette River.

But that transfer never happened. No significant changes have been made at the building or adjacent parking lot since the first announcement. Since then, the Portland Police Bureau and Portland Fire & Rescue have held occasional training exercises there. The Portland Water Bureau has stored some trucks there and the Portland Bureau of Transportation is using a portion of the parking lot as a staging area for the Southwest Capitol Highway Improvement Project, which includes some seismic improvements to the road that runs through Multnomah Village.

The property was used as an indoor temporary homeless shelter between November 2015 and February 2016. Before it opened, then-Mayor Charlie Hales promised neighbors it would only be used overnight for six months.

Some neighborhood residents oppose Ryan's proposal because of problems they say occurred when the armory was used as a homeless shelter. Ryan and Safe Rest Village staff members are scheduled to appear before the neighborhood association during an online forum at 7 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 27.

More information about the forum is available at the association's website.


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