Hales calls on community to work together to manage homelessness problem

Mayor: Public can weigh in on homeless rules

PORTLAND, Ore. -- The sound of construction rang out around Legacy Emanuel Medical Center Monday morning.

The city of Portland paid to install a fence around the nearby homeless camp, the latest self-established camp to spring up on city land without permission.

Officials told KGW on Monday that they don’t know if they’ll let the homeless stay there, but the fence is needed now, as are porta-potties and garbage pickup.

So, the city went ahead and set it all up.

Residents at the camp were thrilled.

“It helps us with security and to protect our stuff. We've had a few things come up missing,” said Wesley Courverler, mayor of the camp.

But not everyone is cheering.

Monday, city council members and Mayor Charlie Hales each received a copy of a letter, signed by the heads of nine Portland neighborhood associations.

The letter claims the city is letting the homeless call the shots when it comes to where they can stay and ignoring the concerns of home and business owners nearby.

They say camps like the one by Legacy and its predecessor, Hazelnut Grove, have “created a lack of trust of the city by other neighborhoods in the position to consider space for encampments.”

“What the mayor's office is doing is saying, ‘It's okay for you to live on the streets in a tent city,’” said Chris Trejbal, of the Overlook Neighborhood Association. “And Portland should be better than that.”

But the mayor’s office says it’s facing an emergency, so Monday they rolled out a set of rules defining where and how the homeless can camp.

They allow sleeping on sidewalks, but no tents. Those will be allowed on other pieces of public land, but only between 9 p.m. and 7 a.m.

The exceptions are organized, city-sanctioned camps like Hazelnut Grove, which will be run by a city-selected manager. The camps, moving forward, must also be affiliated with a 501(c)(3), or nonprofit. City officials say they’re in the process of ironing out that issue with Hazelnut Grove.

“The most important point is it’s unacceptable for people to be sleeping in doorways and in tents," Hales told KGW on Tuesday. "We are not advocating, no one in this building is advocating that it’s okay to have people camping in our city, but tonight we have thousands of people that don’t have a home. So, the question is how do we be practical and manage the problem of people sleeping outside?”

Hales says he believes the plan will be effective at moving people into housing quickly and finding short-term solutions.

"If people work together, I think we can both manage this problem and not be shouting accusations at each other,” said Hales.

The rules were the subject of no votes or public comment during a Monday night work session, but Hales said the community will have its chance to weigh in.

"This is Portland. That always happens."

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