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Clackamas County neighbors upset about church plan to allow overnight homeless stays

King of Kings Lutheran Church in Oak Grove is applying for a special permit from Clackamas County to allow overnight homeless stays.

Several neighbors of a Clackamas County church are angry over the idea of homeless people using the church's parking lot for an overnight stay.         

King of Kings Lutheran Church at 5501 SE Thiessen Road in the community of Oak Grove is applying for a special permit from the county to host what is called a Safe Overnight Shelter or SOS.

The permit would allow up to three vehicles to park in their lot between 6 p.m. and 8 a.m. There would be rules, including no drugs, alcohol or guns. 

“This is a chance to give an unhoused person or family a chance to have a place to sleep through the night without being rustled out,” said Mary Zellharie, SOS team leader at King of Kings.

On Tuesday night, the church hosted a community meeting and invited neighbors to talk with partner agencies about the program. Many neighbors have expressed concern about safety, and fear of the unknown, associated with the county-sponsored program.

“We feel like there should be 24-hour security, some sort of supervision,” said neighbor Tina Canham. 

Canham said she moved to Oak Grove to get away from problems related to the homeless in Portland.

“I was coming home, they were on my porch sleeping,” recalled Canham. “My biggest concern is where they're going to go during the day.”

Zellharie says not to worry.

“There isn't any need to be afraid,” she said. “We're going to vett our guests carefully. They're going to be safe. We're going to monitor. They're going to have rules.”

At last count, 2,300 homeless people were living in Clackamas County, the second highest number in the state.

Clackamas County would screen applicants and refer good fits to King of Kings. The church would run background checks, and Providence Health & Services would provide case managers.

“It's really helping the person with whatever they need to become more stable and improve their wellbeing,” said Becky Wilkinson, Outreach Program Supervisor with Providence.

The SOS permit would be good for one year, but church organizers said if things are not going well, they would shut it down before that.

So far King of Kings is the only church in Clackamas County to apply for the SOS permit. Zellharie hopes they won't be the last.

“This is a chance to show other areas that this can be done,” said Zellharie.

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