To abate the encampment crisis in districts 1, 2 and 3, the Portland city manager is suggesting a limited state of emergency, implementing hazard pay around the homeless services center in District 5 and relaxing city codes, which would allow the city to house up to 150 more people there than normally allowed.

A Portland police officers stands within a homeless encampment at the Fore River Parkway Trail on Sept 6. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

I live here and there is no emergency around the shelter, or in District 5, which has not had issues with encampments. The homeless services center has been a pleasantly quiet neighbor. Only a mile away, a new shelter for asylum seekers, with nearly 200 beds, hasn’t opened yet, and now the city is manufacturing an emergency zone.

The city cannot find employees. I reached out to the chief of staff weeks ago asking how, with hundreds of municipal jobs open, the city will staff the new, soon-to-open shelter for asylum seekers. After they denied the city is running the new shelter, I still have no answer as to who is. The hazard pay zone is because the city can’t meet its existing staffing requirements.

There is a safety, security and mental health impact on homeless services center residents. What will be lost by adding more beds? District 5 does not have enough life safety infrastructure and is miles away from the hospital and police headquarters.

If creating limited states of emergency and relaxing codes are on the table, it must be for the entire city, giving extraordinary opportunities for out-of-the-box solutions; creating shelters in neighborhoods that were previously ruled out, and sanctioning the encampments where they are.

Here is my list of alternative temporary solutions, for the same exact time frame City Manager Danielle West is suggesting relaxing codes. None of them includes sanctioning encampments or overcrowding shelters, and will give the city time to come up with solutions for next summer.


• Suspend all short-term rentals and incentivize owners to participate in the home-share program. Double the amount paid. In the spring, lift the freeze so property owners will get their summer rentals. Councilors considering relaxing overcrowding codes must step up to open doors to rooms that are often empty in winter. This is the best short term solution to place people into actual homes, not shelters, a real “housing first” solution.

• Utilize seasonal rentals and hotels for individuals without mental illness or substance abuse disorders. Renting a home keeps families together and gives them more dignity.

• Immediately revisit the list of recommended shelter locations from 2019 from which the current homeless services center site was selected, including housing homeless elderly people without mental illness at the Barron Center and possibly building a shelter near the Cumberland County Jail. Pedestrian safety was a concern near the jail, but Riverside Parkway – site of the new shelter for asylum seekers – doesn’t have sidewalks.

• Convert warming centers to winter shelters.

• Build smaller shelters throughout the city, temporarily relaxing barriers to development. Move developers to the front of the line for permitting and inspections, no matter how it affects other projects.

• Immediately institute a $21 minimum wage for all city and private shelter and homeless outreach workers to bolster staff throughout the city.

In times of crisis, good leaders lead. It is time for councilors to roll up their sleeves and get involved directly. Each councilor received votes by meeting people, knocking on doors and going to fundraisers. They have contacts, connections and donors. They should open their address books, make some calls, look around their district, check around town.

Relaxing codes and creating emergency shelter areas gives the City Council unprecedented opportunities to more fairly handle the housing crisis. With that in mind, I challenge each councilor to come to the workshop on encampments Sept. 26 with two alternative, viable, ready-to-go options other than adding beds to the homeless services center or additional shelters in District 5. I especially look forward to councilors hoping to win in a few weeks to show us what they can come up with, and why voters should listen to them on this issue.

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