The new Homeless Services Center in the Riverside neighborhood of Portland opened in March. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Portland city councilors on Monday will reconsider last week’s decision to reject an emergency declaration that would temporarily expand the Homeless Services Center on Riverside Street.

But the outcome might not change because one councilor who supported the expansion last week – April Fournier – will be out of town and unable to cast a vote.

City Manager Danielle West had suggested ahead of the Oct. 2 meeting that councilors consider declaring a temporary state of emergency to loosen building restrictions so the shelter could temporarily expand by 50 beds ahead of the cold winter months. The current capacity is 208.

After much discussion, the proposal failed in a 5-4 vote, with Councilors Mark Dion, Victoria Pelletier, Regina Phillips, Anna Trevorrow and Andrew Zarro voting against it. Fournier, Pious Ali, Roberto Rodriguez and Mayor Kate Snyder voted in favor.

Phillips, however, asked to bring the proposal back for reconsideration and said she plans to support it this time around. She said she struggled with which way to vote last time, but over the past two weeks she has come to a new conclusion about the motion.

“My primary concerns were the folks in District 5, and that because of barriers, folks from the encampments might not take these additional beds,” she said, adding that she thought there might be another viable option.


Phillips explained that councilors discussed during executive session the possibility of putting 50 people somewhere else in the city. She didn’t go into further detail about the proposal but said that after talking to experts she realized that staffing a new facility with 50 people would be a challenge.

An expansion of the existing shelter would also mean hiring more staff, something Philips is aware of, but she’s more concerned about a new staff starting on their own in a new place. She thinks they will be better supported coming on board at an existing facility with seasoned staff on site.

Another concern for Phillips was that the Encampment Crisis Response Team has reported that many campers are not interested in going to the shelter. At the city’s first Encampment Workshop in mid-September, director of Health and Human Services Kristen Dow said that between June 28 and Sept. 6, 180 shelter beds were offered to those living in encampments and only 12 were accepted.

A variety of barriers have been identified for why so many unhoused people would reject a shelter bed. They include: the shelter’s distance from downtown, policies that keep couples from sleeping together and concerns about experiencing withdrawals in the shelter.

In recent weeks, however, the city has seen more people from encampments entering the shelter. Dow reported that since Sept. 15, 10 people from the Marginal Way encampment have moved in, with six of them coming in the last four days.

When Phillips heard this information from Dow, she started to think that the additional beds might be more effective than she previously believed.


Dow said the city has been sending shelter staff to the encampments to do outreach and is hiring more outreach workers.

“We’re holding housing fairs down there once a week, and our shelter staff have videos and can show [campers] what the HSC is like and talk with them about their concerns,” she said.

Dow also said colder weather, and signs going up announcing the state’s plans to sweep Marginal Way on Nov. 1, may have motivated more people to come to the shelter.

Phillips says she has been speaking with other councilors ahead of Monday’s vote, both to explain why she decided to change her vote and to see if any other councilors’ minds have changed. She will need at least one other councilor to flip without Fournier present. If the council is locked in a 4-4 vote, the measure would fail.

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