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City Council votes unanimously to adopt code refinements that help shelter providers site and tailor improvements to their properties

News Article
Changes focus on small outdoor shelters like Safe Rest Villages.

On February 15, City Council voted unanimously to adopt zoning code amendments that will make it easier for shelter operators to site outdoor shelters and give them more flexibility to tailor shelter improvements to the property.

The need for these changes was identified by the Joint Office on Homeless Services and Safe Rest Village staff as they began to develop shelters and work with shelter operators. Based on this feedback, the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability developed code amendments through the Shelter to Housing Continuum 2 (S2HC2) project.

Many providers, including Multnomah County and nonprofit and religious institutions, establish outdoor shelters. In addition to providing temporary housing, outdoor shelters help connect homeless individuals with sanitary, mental health, and substance abuse recovery services. The Safe Rest Village program is a City of Portland program to establish a few outdoor shelter facilities, similar to Kenton Women’s Village, St. Johns Village, and shelters in church parking lots.

“The primary intent of this project is to reduce barriers to building shelters that do not rely on temporary rules or a declared housing emergency,” said Commissioner Carmen Rubio, who oversees the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability. “This is a great example of a City bureau being responsive and nimble in the face of our shelter and housing shortage.”

After receiving testimony at a public hearing on the code amendments last week, the Commissioner introduced an amendment to ensure that greenway, environmental, and archeological resources are protected, while still allowing for outdoor shelters to be established.

The S2HC2 code amendments will become effective on March 31.

The original S2HC project

In 2021, the original Shelter to Housing Continuum (S2HC) project rewrote the City's rules governing outdoor shelters, expanding housing and shelter options for individuals and households with extremely low incomes. It also created flexibility in siting all types of shelters and expanded how shelters could operate as a permanent use. Prior to that project, most outdoor shelters were not allowed as a permanent use in the Portland Zoning Code and could only operate temporarily during a designated emergency.

A recent point-in-time survey found that more than 5,000 people are living on the streets in the Portland metro area.