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Questions from the community: Why doesn’t the City provide more alternative safe spaces for individuals experiencing homelessness?

News article

Get answers to your questions about Portland's Homelessness and Urban Camping Impact Reduction Program.

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The Homelessness and Urban Camping Impact Reduction Program’s 2019-2021 Strategic Plan identified three strategic goals that the program has been actively working towards - one of which is to identify/create safe and lawful places for people to sleep. In 2017-2018, we had conducted a full site analysis where we reviewed all City-owned property for the purposes of creating more alternative shelters and came to find that only a small percentage of land in Portland (~3%) is suitable for hosting an alternative shelter or tiny house village. Most parcels identified were ruled out due to problematic zoning issues. As a result, we have been working in partnership with the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability (BPS), the Bureau of Development Services (BDS), the Portland Housing Bureau (PHB), and the Joint Office of Homeless Services (JOHS) on a code change project called the Shelter to Housing Continuum Project. The intent of this project is to create more flexibility in the zoning code as it relates to siting shelter and, more specifically, outdoor shelters or alternative safe spaces for people experiencing homelessness to be. 

The Shelter to Housing Continuum Project, if fully passed, will create more flexibility in siting alternative shelters but there are still challenges associated with the idea. For example, we have found that it is never as simple as just providing land and space for people to be. One important aspect is the spaces must be transitional. In order for this to happen we need to partner with service providers who can actively manage the space. It is necessary to assist individuals living onsite and help them navigate services and remove any barriers folks might have preventing them from getting fully housed. There is also a need for the City to provide basic services and there is a need for the spaces to be safe and secure. 

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic we quickly pivoted to create three new outdoor emergency shelters in March and April of 2020. The community dubbed them C3PO or, “Creating Conscious Communities with People Outside.” Each sites hosts 33-36 platforms for tents and the City provides a range of equipment and supplies to support the needs of individuals onsite. The City also provides a meal program serving three meals a day, seven days a week in partnership with non-profits and volunteer groups within the community. These sites were managed by JOIN who helped to create a foundation for stability and are now managed in partnership with Right to Dream Too (R2Dtoo).

The City continues to actively work with the Joint Office of Homeless Services (JOHS) on expanding shelter models (including alternative shelter models or safe spaces for people to be) and we are proud of the work that JOHS has been doing to transform our shelter system to meet the diverse range of needs we are seeing on the streets of Portland. 

For more information related to the current range of models regarding alternative shelters in Portland, please visit this blog: https://www.portland.gov/omf/news/2020/7/24/questions-community-has-city-considered-alternative-shelters-people-experiencing.  

To see a map of the distribution of shelters in Portland, please visit: https://multco.us/joint-office-homeless-services/distribution-shelters.