Homeless "rest areas" look like they'll be included in the city's next long-term Comprehensive Plan, the central planning framework for how the city will develop in the next two decades.
In a conversation over potential amendments this afternoon, Portland City Council formally placed rest areas—a term frequently used for properties like Right 2 Dream Too at NW Fourth and Burnside—in an item laying out a continuum of housing options the city would "strive to provide" to homeless people. Here are the changes.
The amendment passed 4-1 (it won't be formally enshrined until a vote in June), but not before showing off existing tensions on the council over how Mayor Charlie Hales has increasingly used organized camps in his attempts to staunch homelessness. Commissioner Nick Fish, who hasn't been shy about airing his disagreements with that strategy, asked (rhetorically) where "rest areas" fell in the Portland Housing Bureau's array of services.
"They are not part of the continuum, as currently defined by the housing bureau," housing Commissioner Dan Saltzman responded. "Rest areas are not something I want to see housing bureau dollars supporting."
That's what Fish, a former housing commissioner himself, was expecting to hear, and he used Saltzman's response as an argument against cementing rest areas in the Comp Plan.
"Rest areas are currently not part of our policy," he said. "I don't think it's appropriate. I don't think we should decide the question as pat of the comp plan. Especially when there’s been no public process."
Hales, obviously, disagreed. "I think we want to have the [planning] staff figure out what should be allowed where," he said.
Depending on what planning staffers come up with, that could have important outcomes in Portland. Putting "rest areas" in the Comp Plan would add heft to discussions about where homeless campgrounds could be allowed under city zoning law—a bit of a gray area right now. (You'll notice "transitional campgrounds" are also explicitly mentioned, without controversy, in the comp plan item under discussion. It's not totally clear what the difference between the two is.) Central Eastside businesses are currently challenging the city's rationale for moving Right 2 Dream Too to a plot of city land zoned for industrial purposes.
Fish isn't an enormous fan of the organized camps that have sprung up lately. And he's even less a fan of much of the work around them being carried out through the city's Office of Management and Finance, as opposed to the housing bureau. All that showed this afternoon.
"It is another example of doing housing policy outside the traditional mechanisms," he told Hales. "You are back-dooring this."
Hales disagreed. So did Saltzman, and Commissioners Amanda Fritz and Steve Novick. As with a vote to relocate Right 2 Dream Too in late February, Fish was the odd man out.