PORTLAND, Ore. — Mayor Ted Wheeler held a virtual community conversation on the removal of unsanctioned camps across Portland and the city's first proposed sanctioned camping site on Tuesday afternoon. Leadership from the California-based nonprofit Urban Alchemy, who will manage the first site, joined the conversation.
Wheeler began the virtual community conversation by calling the homeless crisis the most significant social issue facing the city of Portland. In order to address it — his office has proposed six city-sanctioned camping sites, or what they're calling "Temporary Alternative Shelter Sites."
"My stated public goal is to have no unsanctioned homeless camping anywhere in the city," Wheeler said. "But in order for that to work we have to provide off-ramps from homelessness, otherwise we're just moving people from one neighborhood to a different neighborhood and that's not a successful strategy."
Earlier this month, Wheeler confirmed that the first of the six planned large-scale sanctioned camping sites will be located in inner Southeast Portland on a vacant lot on Gideon Street near Powell Boulevard and 13th Avenue.
During the virtual meeting, the mayor's team presented the Gideon Street site, which would shelter up to 150 people, with connections to food, hygiene, safety and other services.
"This allows us to bring services closer to the people who need them with the goal, not just of having them stay in a camp, but having them transition out of the camp and into better circumstances," Wheeler said.
Leadership members from Urban Alchemy also answered questions and addressed concerns — ranging from onsite conditions, to the number of people in the camp, to safety outside the gates.
The city says this, and other, future city-sanctioned camps will have a 1,000-foot "perimeter zone" with increased security patrols, and a ban on camping around it. Wheeler believes this will make the area safer with more eyes on it.
Urban Alchemy explained that weapons aren't allowed on site — and anyone staying there will need to check them in at the front gate. The Gideon Street site won't take walk-ins — only referrals by outreach workers — similar to the Safe Rest Village model.
City leaders stressed that no one will be forced into the camps, but Lena Miller, the founder and CEO of Urban Alchemy, hopes that news of the site will spread and draw people in.
"The way you get people to want to be there is creating a place that people want to be," Miller said.
During the virtual call, Wheeler broke the news that Governor Tina Kotek committed to issuing pod structures for shelter — rather than tents — at the site.
"Tents will work, and the Urban Alchemy model has been based on tents, but if we can also find a quick way to fund and deliver pods — that would certainly be an improvement, from my perspective," Wheeler said.