PORTLAND, Ore. (PORTLAND TRIBUNE) — Those behind the Right 2 Dream Too homeless camp are considering the planned new version to be a long-term model for other neighborhoods and communities.
“It is designed to be duplicated elsewhere in the city and around the world,” says Mark Lakeman, a Portland architect active with the City Repair Project who worked on the design.
The Portland City Council will consider relocating the camp — commonly known as R2DToo — from its current location at Northwest Fourth Avenue and Burnside Street to a city-owned gravel lot at Southeast Third Avenue and Harrison Street at 2 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 4.
A concept plan prepared by Lakeman and others for the new location was presented for the first time at a packed community meeting hosted by Commissioner Amanda Fritz on Saturday. It shows a 17,000-square-foot facility with permanent water and sewer lines, raised garden plots, tents for both overnight and longer-term residents, and 3,000 square feet of restrooms, showers, laundry facilities and other buildings.
“It’s intended to enhance the neighborhood because people will be coming from all over the world to see it,” Lakeman says.
But Gary Rehmberg, co-owner of the adjacent East Side Plating Inc., says the move is “going to cause irreparable harm for our business” at 8400 S.E. 26th Place.
Documents to be considered by the council on Thursday call for the relocated camp to accommodate up to 100 people at a time and remain there for as long as 10 years. The deadline for the move is October.
Some other area businesses and homeowners also oppose the idea, including the Central Eastside Indusrial Council. President Brad Malsin says the organization has retained lawyers who are exploring legal options for challenging the relocation, which would establish the new camp on property currently zoned for industrial use.
“We don’t believe allowing people to live outside in tents is humane, and that is not a good location,” says Malsin, owner of Beam Development. “We spent a lot of time drafting the Southeast Quadrant Plan [to guide future development in the area] and camping is not one of the approved uses.”
However, many of the comments at the meeting were supportive of R2DToo’s operation as a self-governing camp with a code of conduct that prohibits drugs and alcohol use. Mayor Charlie Hales, who attended the meeting, said police are never called to the current camp to resolve problems.
One question repeatedly raised at the meeting was whether camps like R2DToo are the city’s only proposed response to homelessness or are part of a larger plan. Hales assured those in attendance that the city is working on a larger plan with Multnomah County and other partners called A Home for Everyone that intends to spend $30 million in the next fiscal year to create more shelters, transitional programs and affordable housing.
Hales said the City Council will hold a work session on homelessness and housing issues — including new camping policies and the progress the city-county plan is making — at 2:30 p.m. Monday, Feb. 8.
The new camp is being financed with approximately $846,000 paid by Old Town property owners to buy a parcel near Union Station from the city that had been considered for an earlier relocation site. The city used $254,044 to purchase the Southeast Portland property from the Oregon Department of Transportation.
Camps, tensions on rise
The meeting and upcoming votes are happening as tensions over homeless camping are increasing in the city.
Camps have grown more visible in neighborhoods and along nature trails since Hales told the police to only crack down on homeless residents who are committing crimes in camps — not because the camps are unsightly.
The Overlook Neighborhood Association has been especially critical of the city allowing camping along North Greeley below Interstate Avenue. Portland officials have allowed dozens of people to camp on city-owned property in what is called Hazelnut Grove. The city moved other campers off adjacent property, but a number have resettled on city-owned property next to Legacy Emanuel Medical Center.
Some of those using the Springwater Corridor in East Portland are complaining about an increase in homeless camping along the popular commuting and recreation trail, especially between Southeast 82nd Avenue and I-205. A growing number of walkers and bicyclists say they no longer feel safe using the public trail because of the increasing number of homeless people living along it.
More recently, the board of directors of the McCormick Pier Condominiums along the west bank of the Willamette River in Northwest Portland locked the gates and blocked access to the riverside walkway in front of their units because of the increase in homeless people using it. City officials ordered them to reopen it because the walkway is part of the public Willamette Greenway.
The apparent increase in camping has prompted the Portland Business Alliance to launch an online campaign urging residents to pressure the City Council to find alternatives.
“We need more safe, indoor options for the individuals now camping on our sidewalks, under bridges and in our parks. And we need to address areas where unorganized campsites have sprung up, creating problems for nearby residents, businesses, shoppers and tourists. Portland is better than this,” read a portion of a proposed email to the council as part of the Portland Can Do Better campaign.
The Portland Tribune is a KOIN media affiliate.