The City Council voted 7-1 Monday to adopt a new licensing program for emergency shelters in Portland.

The proposal, which has been in the works for over a year, will require all emergency shelters, including the city-run adult and family shelters, to apply for and receive licenses within 90 days of the ordinance taking effect next month.

Portland made an informal commitment over 30 years ago to provide emergency shelter to anyone in need. But only recently has the city begun enacting zoning, land-use regulations and other standards for the location and operation of shelters citywide.

The proposal adopted by the council Monday will require regular neighborhood meetings between service providers and residents, unless a waiver is granted. And it would limit the number of shelter beds in any given neighborhood.

Mayor Kate Snyder said she was surprised to learn that Portland did not require licenses for emergency shelters. She hopes the new standards can help other communities considering opening emergency shelters of their own.

“By talking about licensing tonight, we’re taking this opportunity to say, ‘this is how we do it in the city of Portland,’ ” Snyder said. “I actually think this could be helpful to other communities as they contemplate their role in helping people. It will help communities see how you can govern the relationships that need to exist peacefully in a community so things can work.”


Portland adopted a six-month moratorium on new shelters in Bayside in June to give the council time to vote on the licensing program. Neither councilors nor staff Monday addressed whether that moratorium would be lifted.

The licensing program would prohibit locating more than 300 shelter beds within a one-mile radius and would require shelters be at least 1,000 feet apart. Existing emergency shelters, including the Preble Street Wellness Shelter and a planned teen shelter, are exempt from the caps, though all shelters will need licenses to operate.

About eight people spoke during a public comment session. Service providers like Milestone Recovery and Through These Doors, as well as Homeless Voices for Justice, a Preble Street advocacy program, opposed the proposal.

“My concern is about what I see to be the neighborhood’s outsized involvement with our daily shelter operations,” said Rebecca Hobbs, executive director of Through These Doors, which operates a 16-bed domestic violence shelter in the city.

Hobbs was also concerned about maintaining the confidentiality of its location and clients. But a city attorney noted that domestic violence shelters may apply for waivers of any standard, including neighborhood meetings, that would compromise the confidentiality and safety of clients.

Bayside residents urged passage, arguing that no neighborhood should have the concentration of social services and emergency shelter beds that their neighborhood has. Although the city plans to move the Oxford Street Shelter out of the neighborhood, other shelters, including those operated by Preble Street and the city’s family shelter, would remain.


“I feel like Portland is ready to grow up in our collective emergency response system,” Cedar Street resident Jim Hall said.

Hobbs and Milestone argued that they were not allowed to offer enough input on the recommendations. But councilors said they heard their input – they just didn’t agree.

“We didn’t agree with all of the feedback that we did receive,” Councilor Belinda Ray said. “The ordinance before you represents a compromise between all of the different parties we heard from.”

The council approval came after Councilors April Fournier, Andrew Zarro and Pious Ali urged postponement. Fournier said she had expected a council workshop before taking a vote, but that did not occur.

“This is a particularly significant undertaking,” Fournier said.

After the motion to postpone failed 5-3, Fournier asked several questions concerning whether the new regulations, particularly the required reports to the city, would be onerous for community service providers and take time away from clients.


While Fournier and Ali approved the proposal, Zarro voted against it, saying he needed more time.

“It does sound to me that this ordinance is not ready yet,” Zarro said.

The licensing program was the basis for the City Council’s competing measure against a citizen referendum on the November ballot that would have limited the size of most new homeless shelters to 50 beds. Both proposals received less than the majority of votes needed to be enacted. The council’s proposal received 27.5 percent of the vote, and the citizen proposal got 31.4 percent. A “none of the above” option received the largest share of votes at 41 percent.

The licensing program would establish a new annual fee for shelters. Smaller shelters with up to 40 beds would be charged $250 a year, while larger shelters would be charged $500 a year. The program approved by the council did not include a 150-bed cap per facility, which was part of the council’s referendum measure.

Anne Torregrossa, a city attorney, said the initial shelter applications – and waiver requests – would have to be reviewed and voted on by the council. Any renewals would be done administratively, unless a councilor or city staff member flags a renewal for a closer examination.

Torregrossa said city staff would work to ensure that shelter providers are meeting the new standards and she didn’t anticipate a heavy hand in terms of enforcement, especially during the initial round of licensing.

Councilor Tae Chong, who leads the Health & Human Services and Public Safety Committee, said the proposal will allow for the equitable distribution of emergency shelters throughout the city.

“We were very careful in drafting this ordinance,” Chong said. “We’re trying to make it equitable for all neighborhoods and new shelters.”

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