UPDATE: SW Organizations React to Proposal that Would Allow Limited Camping in Parks

[Posted March 12, 2021]


[Updated April 9, 2021]


Thousands of public comments have turned the tide on a portion of the city code revision that would have allowed organized temporary shelters to be located in city parks.


On March 31 the City Council approved several amendments to the Shelter to Housing Continuum proposal, including prohibitions on temporary outdoor shelters in the Open Space zone (which includes most public parks) or in natural area overlays in all zones.


At its meeting on April 14, the Council will continue to discuss two additional elements of the proposal that concern RV's or tiny houses on residential property and allowing shelters in single-dwelling zones on institutional properties (most likely properties owned by faith communities).


More information is available at the Shelter to Housing Continuum Project website.

Southwest Neighborhoods, Inc. (SWNI) and Friends of Gabriel Park have prepared testimony in response to a proposal coming before City Council that would allow camping in parks for up to 180 days. (Clarification added post-publication: the proposed code changes would allow organized outdoor shelters which could include tents or other temporary shelters in parks and open space. Shelters would be operated by a “public agency or nonprofit." The proposed code changes do not apply to individuals camping in parks outside of officially sanctioned shelters).


(SWNI continues to operate as a volunteer organization after losing its funding and official status as an official District Coalition service provider.)


The Shelter to Housing Continuum proposals, to be considered by the City Council on March 17, call for changes to city code to allow greater flexibility in siting temporary shelters. Under the new code, if approved as submitted, permanent camping in parks and open space would be prohibited; temporary camping would be allowed for no more than 180 days.


Other changes would make it easier for faith-based institutions, schools, colleges and community service providers to expand charitable meal programs; allow people to live in recreational vehicles or tiny homes on wheels in outdoor shelters, church parking lots, manufactured home parks and commercial campgrounds; and increase the number of people allowed in "group living arrangements."


First declared in 2015 under then-Mayor Charlie Hales and twice extended, Portland's State of Emergency status allowing temporary shelter siting is set to expire on April 4, 2021.


City Council public hearing: March 17, 2:00pm. Watch live online.


Register online by Tuesday, March 16 at 4:00 p.m to testify during the hearing, or submit written testimony in advance online at Portland Maps. The Map App at Portland Maps also includes proposal documents and all previously submitted testimony (click on "Read public testimony" in the upper right hand corner of the page). As of Thursday, March 11, more than 100 comments on the proposal had been submitted.


Find more information on the Shelter to Housing Continuum project, including a FAQ here. A final version of the SWNI letter was not available in time for the Hillsdale News deadline. A draft version can be found here.


—Valeurie Friedman


Friends of Gabriel Park testimony on the Shelter to Housing Continuum code change proposal


Dear Mayor and City Council, 


Please amend the Shelter to Housing Continuum recommendation to allow the use of Park Open Space Zones for outdoor shelters only in the event of a declared emergency due to a catastrophic natural disaster such as an earthquake, not for homeless shelters.  We are in support of identifying and implementing new solutions to help our houseless neighbors, but locating shelters in parks is not a solution for many reasons.


There is no need to use park open spaces for shelters as there are adequate vacant and underutilized sites available across the city without the use of Open Space Zones.  


In many areas of Portland, there is already a shortage of park open spaces for use by the community so use of these spaces for any non-parks purpose should be restricted.  Residents across the city, especially those without their own gardens and yards, depend on park access for essential recreation and their own mental and physical health.


Siting of shelters in parks will adversely impact the surrounding park area and intended land use,  with possible harm to wildlife and natural resources.  City parks were not designed, and are not appropriate, respectful places, for people to live. 


The houselessness of thousands of Portland residents is not a short-term emergency, rather it is an ongoing crisis.  As such, the long-term planning that is required for this crisis cannot include an expectation that temporary shelters in parks offer a solution.


While park open spaces are not appropriate for shelters, park facilities could provide resources in other ways, for example, informational signs on where/how to get services could be posted in restrooms and community centers, community centers could provide drinking water, showers, and possibly computer stations.


Please provide leadership in implementing the best solutions for our houseless community members - living in parks is not one of them.


What do you think? Let us know.



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