Proposal To Declare A Homelessness State Of Emergency In Oregon Takes Shape

Feb 17, 2020
Originally published on February 13, 2020 1:50 pm

House Speaker Tina Kotek wants more homeless shelters built around the state and soon. 

“We are really trying to take an emergency mindset to the thousands and thousands of Oregonians who are experiencing unsheltered homelessness,” the Portland Democrat testified to lawmakers on Wednesday. 

But one way she suggests doing so — bypassing local zoning rules and laws — has some city leaders concerned. 

Rob Drake, the city manager of Cornelius, told a panel of lawmakers Wednesday that he knows the House speaker “has a big heart” but total preemption of local control worries him. 

“You can appreciate someone might offer up a spot (for a homeless shelter) or have access to a spot that is next to a daycare or a school or heavily impact a business,” Drake said.

Cheri Helt, R-Bend, noted she recently parked her car in downtown Salem next to popular camping spot.

“How much local control do we have when we park our cars next to the mall and there are 100 people camping in tents?” Helt asked, adding while she appreciates the need for local control, she said, this issue is so big it must be addressed. 

Kotek is pushing for a first-of-its kind proposal: She wants a statewide emergency declaration that would allow cities around the state to more easily site homeless shelters. 

Kotek’s latest plan also calls for building low-barrier shelters or navigation centers in Eugene, Salem and the city of Bend.

She is calling for $60 million one-time dollars to go toward creating more shelter capacity from around the state. Kotek increased the amount from $40 million to $60 million after the revenue forecast this week showed the state was predicting more money than originally anticipated earlier this year. The money will likely be divided up largely between creating more shelter capacity and helping with rental assistance. 

Under the latest proposal, shelters must meet certain criteria, such as operating out of a building with proper permits, satisfy safety and sanitary sleeping conditions and be located near public transportation. 

The latest measure also says only local governments or charitable organizations with three years of experience may operate a shelter, or someone else could partner with either option.

The ability to bypass local zoning would expire in July 2021. 

The Committee on Human Services and Housing voted to move the measure to the Rules Committee on Wednesday. 

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