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Encampment Management Program

The Encampment Management Program provides a coordinated countywide response to help people living temporarily in homeless encampments on public property.

Due to many complex factors, including the COVID-19 pandemic, our community has experienced a dramatic increase in unsanctioned camping on public property. Throughout this difficult time, Washington County has been working closely with allied agencies and community partners to address the urgent needs of individuals experiencing homelessness. In response to this challenge, the Board of County Commissioners has created a program to improve countywide coordination and management of encampments.

Under Washington County's organizational framework, the Encampment Management Program (EMP) is leading a multi-agency effort to assist individuals living in homeless encampments and balance the health and safety needs of all community members. The County’s ultimate goal is to connect people in need with emerging community resources and help create pathways to stable, permanent housing.

The following represent key EMP strategies to ensure effective coordination and support among several County departments and our jurisdictional partners:

  • Intensive outreach—outreach workers visit regularly to connect people to supportive services and provide housing navigation assistance.
     
  • Centralized point of contact—the program provides information to community members and stakeholders and helps coordinate services.
     
  • Sanitary and solid waste management—sanitation services include portable toilets, handwashing stations and garbage collection.
     
  • Health and safety assessments—regular risk assessments are used to evaluate conditions like uncontained garbage, conspicuous drug use, criminal activity, environmental impact and camp size. Assessment results help to determine what type of response is needed.
     
  • Assigned Sheriff’s deputy—a dedicated outreach deputy from the Sheriff’s Office works to address public safety concerns and coordinate with other law enforcement agency partners.

During the global pandemic, Washington County is following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Oregon Health Authority and County Public Health officials to allow people who are camping outdoors to remain where they are, when safe to do so, to help limit the spread of COVID-19. Local governments are also impacted by the Supreme Court case Martin v. Boise that prohibits enforcement action against people who are sleeping outside due to lack of available shelter space in the community.

Additional information and resources

FAQs

The Encampment Management Program (EMP) was created in response to an unprecedented rise in homelessness during the COVID-19 pandemic, including a dramatic increase in people camping outdoors in public locations. In the spring of 2021, the Board of County Commissioners approved a one-year program to improve encampment management coordination across jurisdictional boundaries and to address many related challenges. The EMP is intended to provide a short-term emergency response as new resources—funded by the Metro-wide Supportive Housing Services (SHS) Initiative—come online, creating new pathways to permanent supportive housing for people experiencing homelessness.

Our city and special district partners have been invited to join in this unique opportunity to meet the urgent needs of our most vulnerable neighbors and address the very understandable livability and safety concerns of area residents and businesses.

During the global pandemic, Washington County has chosen to follow guidance from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the Oregon Health Authority and County Public Health officials to allow people who are camping outdoors to remain where they are to help limit the spread of COVID-19. Local governments are also impacted by the Supreme Court case Martin v. Boise that prohibits enforcement action against people who are sleeping outside due to lack of available shelter space in the community.

Under the County's organizational framework, the EMP is leading a coordinated, focused response to the needs of individuals who are living temporarily in encampments on publicly-owned property, using the following strategies:

  • Managing the overall operational response, including strategic communication between participating allied agencies and the general public.
  • Intensive outreach to connect campers with supportive services and housing navigation assistance.
  • Routine, scored assessments of health and safety risks at each location that determine whether an encampment qualifies for supportive services or requires clean up.
  • Emergency sanitation support that includes placement of portable toilets, handwashing stations and regular garbage collection.
  • A dedicated Sheriff's Office outreach deputy that not only works directly with camp residents to help problem-solve issues but is also able to address public safety concerns that arise and provide coordination with other law enforcement agency partners and service providers.
  • A centralized point of contact for community members and other stakeholders who are concerned about encampments.

Regularly occurring, standardized risk assessments are used by staff to evaluate conditions such as uncontained garbage, conspicuous drug use, criminal activity, environmental impact and camp size. Scoring of criminal activity is provided by the Sheriff’s Office and the final score determines what further actions are required. For instance,

  • Encampments that score below 50 points on the Risk Assessment Tool will receive program services including basic hygiene and sanitation management for residents.
  • A score between 50 and 75 leads to a notice that campers have a two-week grace period to reduce health and safety risks (through voluntary cleanup efforts and/or behavior changes) or the camp will be closed for cleaning.
  • Encampments that score above 75 points will be posted with a notice of closure for cleaning.

If the initial risk assessment scores above 75, or if an encampment on a two-week grace period receives a follow-up score above 50, campers will be notified of the County's intent to close the encampment for cleaning. The notice could be as long as 5 days or as short as 72 hours, depending on the specific circumstances. In addition to personal contact, notices will be posted advising residents of the cleanup and the need to remove their personal property from the site. Any remaining items will be carefully inspected and those that are "reasonably recognizable as belonging to a person and that has apparent utility" will be inventoried, bagged and stored for a period of 45 days. Campers will be notified where and how they can retrieve their abandoned personal property at a later date.

EMP staff will work closely with contracted agencies providing supportive housing services to help locate alternate places for campers to stay and store their belongings.

Campers will not be prevented from returning after the cleanup, but our ultimate goal is to assist as many people as possible to obtain supportive services and stable housing to break the cycle of homelessness.

The Board of County Commissioners allocated $1.95M in American Recovery Plan Act funds to support the Encampment Management Program for one year. The Board has also extended an invitation to cities and special districts within the County to contribute staff time as well as a proportion of future funding needs to ensure a consistent countywide approach to managing homeless encampments.

For questions or concerns about an encampment in your area, or for additional information about the EMP, please contact the program coordinator at 971-297-7877 or email [email protected].

Anyone with concerns about potential criminal activity or disturbing behaviors related to an encampment is encouraged to contact your local law enforcement agency through non-emergency dispatch at 503-629-0111. For an immediate threat to life or property, dial 9-1-1 for an emergency response.

Learn more about the Encampment Management Program.