Washington County developed community guidelines for siting shelters in 2021. Key takeaways from that process included access to services, employment, and community resources, access to public transportation, and geographic and demographic distribution. Each selected site is considered with that criterion in mind.
Other factors include needing a willing seller or partner who is willing to sell the property at market price. Our real estate team is actively pursuing sites County-wide for emergency shelter and affordable housing development. Sites need to be relatively flat and rectangular for both alternative shelter models and to meet long-term development needs. Sites also benefit from secure access for ingress/egress safety.
Washington County may also lease property from a willing partner (in the case of Aloha UMC) that meets the above guidelines.
With all these factors in play, we recognize that no one site will meet every possible need. We have found that the three potential temporary pod village shelters would meet the immediate needs for shelter guests and have potential for long-term development into affordable housing or related programming.
All Washington County shelters are staffed by 24/7 shelter operators with extensive experience in trauma informed care, safety, housing navigation, and employment support. Shelter staff help shelter guests connect with long-term housing resources and mental health and addiction treatment as needed to ensure a path toward long-term stability. Shelter staff may also provide transportation support or shuttle to nearby public transportation as needed to ensure guests are able to attend key appointments.
Other amenities include on-site gathering space, shower & hand washing stations, meal services, and basic personal supplies (i.e. clothing, hygiene products), and more.
The Washington County Shelter system prioritizes serving people who have experienced prolonged homelessness, are 55 and older, and/or are currently unsheltered (sleeping outside or in a vehicle). A shelter referral is completed either by one of our Homeless Services providers or individuals may contact Community Connect at 503-640-3263 and request the referral.
Because of the lack of affordable housing and shelter options in Washington County, there are many people already entered into the Community Connect system waiting for shelter placements to help them get back on their feet. These individuals will be prioritized for shelter entry.
Washington County prioritizes low barrier shelters, which means background checks are not used to screen out guests.
Low barrier policies allow homeless individuals and households to access shelter, housing and services without preconditions such as sobriety, no pets, or agreement to participate in specific programs, activities or classes. This is a best practice to remove barriers to entering shelter, and in turn, reduces the number of homeless individuals in our community.
Shelter residents are required to follow a Code of Conduct. Violations of that code will lead to their removal from the program for a period of time. Below is a sample code of conduct:
HB 2006 Section 3. (1) states that “A local government shall approve an application for the development or use of land for an emergency shelter, as defined in section 2 of this 2021 Act, on any property, notwithstanding ORS chapter 195, 197, 197A, 215 or 227 or any statewide plan, rule of the Land Conservation and Development Commission or local land use regulation, zoning ordinance, regional framework plan, functional plan or comprehensive plan, if the emergency shelter…” Multiple shelters have been sited across Washington County using this State ordinance. for reference, here is a link to HB 2006
In 2020 and 2021, Washington County saw a significant increase in unmanaged encampments. Without available shelter to offer unsheltered homeless individuals, Washington County stood up a pilot Encampment Management Program to mitigate the health & safety risks of unmanaged encampments that cleaned encampments as needed. Since then, Washington County has stood up 426 shelter beds and is sunsetting the Encampment Management Program in August 2023.
Unlike an unmanaged encampment, a pod village shelter includes 24/7 staffing from a qualified shelter operator and meets all basic needs for shelter guests including lodging, food, water, and hygiene needs. This organically eliminates the “crimes of necessity” that are more common in unmanaged encampments. On top of provision of these immediate needs, the shelter operator also enters into a good neighbor agreement and provides a code of conduct for shelter guests. When shelter guests do not follow the Code of Conduct, they are exited from the program.
Finally, shelter staff and housing case managers are actively working with shelter guests to help them make the transition into long-term affordable housing. Shelter is just a temporary stop along the way towards long-term housing stability for program participants.
Washington County, as well as neighboring jurisdictions including Forest Grove and Hillsboro, and currently working on a Time, Place Manner Public Camping regulation draft ordinance. If adopted, this ordinance would take effect over the summer and prohibit camping on public property when shelter is available.
Not only would the ordinance prevent camping on public property when shelter is available, it would also prevent camping within 500 ft of designated shelters, locations providing services to houseless individuals, schools, day care facilities and family day care providers. This would ensure unsanctioned encampments would not be present near an active shelter location.
Funding for alternative shelter locations comes from the Washington County Homeless Services Division. This division receives funding through the voter-approved regional Supportive Housing Services measure as its primary funding source, Continuum of Care funding from the federal government, and more recently temporary funding from the Governor’s implementation EO-02 declaring a state of emergency related to homelessness.
Given that alternative shelters are temporary in nature and would only operate 18-24 months at the current proposed or operating sites, impact to nearby property values should be minimal and temporary.
While this is a common concern from property owners, the Portland State University Homelessness Research & Action Collaborative ran a study examining property value changes in Portland in four different neighborhoods where an alternative pod style shelter was sited. They found, “In three of the four neighborhoods that are adjacent to residential homes there were no significant changes in property values. The fourth neighborhood did indicate that property values of the nearby residential properties to one of the villages did drop slightly in relation to the opening of the village. However, there are several other factors that could explain those changes.”
Parking is provided on-site for shelter staff and guests to mitigate parking impacts on the surrounding neighborhood.
Before programming begins at any of our shelter locations, including pod villages, a robust community engagement process is completed including:
- Sending a postcard to nearby businesses and residences,
- Scheduling meetings for neighbors and interested community members to ask questions, share concerns, and develop a good neighbor agreement for the site
- And canvasing nearby neighbors and businesses with shelter staff to ensure impacted nearby residences have a face-to-face contact and conversation as needed.
For concerning situations related to the shelter that do not need police intervention, on-site staff can be contacted on a 24-hour basis to advise or assist. A phone number will be posted on the project web page here once available. Concerns may also be raised (during business hours) to County management staff providing oversight on the project. They may be reached by emailing [email protected].
Nearby residents or business operators who have specific safety concerns regarding troubling, disruptive or potential criminal activity are encouraged to contact non-emergency dispatch at: 503-629-0111.
If a situation appears to be physically threatening or dangerous, call 911 for an immediate, emergency law enforcement response.