Leadership in Portland is moving toward fulfilling the plans they agreed upon in November of last year. That is when a plan created by Mayor Ted Wheeler and Commissioner Dan Ryan was approved by the city council to solve unsanctioned street camping within the city.
This plan includes creating six mass sanctioned homeless camps called Temporary Alternative Shelter Sites (TASS), building 20,000 units of affordable housing, and allowing the prohibition of unsanctioned camping on city streets.
The first camp was built last year in Southeast Portland at 1490 SE Gideon Street. In a report in October, it was housing 134 people with 45 open living units. The housing units are small tiny homes placed within a fenced area where they have access to showers, bathrooms, a place for pets to go to the bathroom, and security guards to guard entry and the perimeter.
Besides describing the plan or the camps in detail, the main issue with the second site Mayor Wheeler has chosen in North Portland by the Columbia Slough across from a wastewater treatment plant, is the possibility of the soil being contaminated by toxins.
This serious issue is detailed in a KGW8 article by Blair Best on Dec. 7. In it, we learn Mayor Wheeler announced the area as the next TASS camp in October. The city plans on having the site built within the following months depending on site conditions.
The soil is being tested now with the DEQ awaiting to analyze the results. As the article explains, the land is owned by Portland’s Bureau of Environmental Services. One of the reasons for the question of toxicity is how it was tested about 10 years ago by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality and found to have toxins in the soil. The site was once used for boat manufacturing.
The article includes a video showing the site and interviews with neighbors and stakeholders in this effort to house the homeless and clean up Portland’s streets. If the site is found to be too toxic for the homeless to live there, Mayor Wheeler will have to announce the next area and move on.
With the proposed camps housing 250 people each, that would mean 1500 people could be housed at full capacity. While the cost of maintaining these camps would be high (est. $30m/year), they will save money in the end if the streets can be clean and safe, as this brings back business and tourism. Of course, this is only part of the overall plan.