05 05 2016
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Housing activists shut down the Gresham City Council last week, protesting the closure of a major illicit outdoor camping area in a city that has very few homeless shelters.

Seven people were arrested last Tuesday and charged with disorderly conduct after testifying before the Gresham City Council on the housing Issue.

“I can tell you this,” one man told city leaders, “when you make things hard on the homeless you make them desperate — and then you do have community problems when people are desperate. Desperate times call for desperate measures, you can’t just shift it off on Portland or ship them off to Utah or someplace else.”

Another man told the Gresham City Council about his personal concern regarding homeless veterans. He described his project of renovating two East County buildings into a single-room occupancy hotel that could house 178 people — technically all the homeless people in Gresham, according to the bi-annual count which many people consider to be far too low.

“They’ve put out that all the veterans have found housing — they haven’t,” he told the Gresham commissioners.

“I hear a lot of people talking but I don’t hear a lot of people talking solutions. So I’m here to talk solutions,” he said.

Gresham officials say they are trying to catch up with help from Multnomah County, which is investing $130,000 in new services through the A Home for Everyone program.

They also plan two-person crews called "clean teams" who, Gresham officials say, will clean up dirty campsites as well as offer services to people trying to get off the street.

Meanwhile, the city of Portland’s housing crisis emergency plan has swung into place, with new guidelines allowing tent camping during certain hours and overnight car camping in certain church parking lots.

Portland’s plan also features heightened social services outreach to individuals who seem at highest risk on the street.

The emergency rules have been triggered by the lack of affordable housing across the metro area; an estimated 2000 people sleep outside in Portland every night.

Mayor Charlie Hale's office issued the homelessness toolkit last year, piecing together resources for affordable housing, and people already stuck on the street.

Hales’ chief of staff Joshua Alpert did not respond for a request for comment. The new plan is his brainchild and is built around four basic strategies:

  • Allowing people to sleep on the sidewalk if they don’t use any kind of tent or structure, only keep their bag out between  9 p.m. and 7 a.m., “on rights of way (other than sidewalks) and remnants,” with no group bigger than 6 people in any one location.
  • Groups camping together must obtain a permit from the City, allow the City to select or approve a “camp host” for the group, create and abide by a code of conduct and must provide restrooms and sanitation.
  • Groups banding together for vehicle camping must obtain a permit from the City, allow the City to select or approve the “camp host,” create and abide by a code of conduct, and provide toilets and sanitation.  Church parking lots will be allowed “when in partnership with City.”
  • The fourth leg of the emergency plan is already-existing shelters, and access points including 211info.org as well as calling 2-1-1 and texting 898211

Portland has also made available a gigantic shipping container for houseless people to store their belongings during the day.

And lastly, Portland’s plan offers a one-point-of-contact complaint system that gives the city flexibility in tracking complaints about the campers and compiling that info for analysis. 

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