Fast-approaching conflict wasn't hard to envision two weeks ago, when a group of homeless campers surprised officials by setting up shop on a vacant, city-owned lot in North Portland, announcing they'd just founded Portland's latest organized encampment.
The campers—recently pushed from a site on North Greeley—told the Mercury at the time they had every right to establish the camp, and announced plans to contract for portable toilets and build tiny homes on the small corner lot.
City officials were unimpressed.
"Folks occupying land does not mean the City will sanction a camp," Mayor Charlie Hales' office said at the time. "Indeed, nobody should be occupying City land without having first discussed it with the City."
It seemed only a matter of time before clean-up crews would be called to move the campers elsewhere. Instead, it looks like the organizers will get their wish.
Hales' chief of staff, Josh Alpert, tells the Mercury the city's preparing to issue the new campers a land-use agreement for the plot at North Kerby and Graham, at the same time it works to give a formal permit to the longer-lived Hazelnut Grove camp a ways south. The two camps will be the first in what Hales' office has said could be a series of organized, city-sanctioned sites throughout the city, as officials work to increase affordable housing options and shelter beds.
Alpert knows the deal might look like the city's capitulating, but says it's actually a positive thing. The city had planned a sweep, he says, but then the Eliot Neighborhood Association indicated it would welcome the encampment.
"Honestly we were prepared to go ahead and move them from that space," Alpert says, "until I got word from the neighborhood association that they were willing to make it work."
We've reached out to members of the Eliot NA's board of directors to discuss the situation. Assuming Alpert's correct, though, the group's support is another example of the city's neighborhood associations slowly embracing the idea of organized camps, which I wrote about in this week's Hall Monitor.
The permits issued to Hazelnut Grove and the newer camp will have legal differences, Alpert says, owing to the fact one of them is on land controlled by the Portland Bureau of Transportation, and the other is on land controlled by the city's Office of Management and Finance. But the agreements will be broadly the same. Alpert declined to offer a preview of what the permits would stipulate, saying they're still being vetted by city attorneys.