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Frequently Asked Questions

Below are frequently asked questions we have received throughout the community engagement process for the draft Public Camping Ordinance (Time, Place, Manner).


Ordinance #896 will regulate camping in unincorporated Washington County on public property including natural areas and parks, tax foreclosed properties, lands purchased for public projects, and the public right-of-way.

Private property owned by individuals or businesses, including HOA owned parks, will continue to report camping activity to law enforcement to trespass individuals as needed.

City jurisdictions are currently developing or implementing their own Public Camping ordinances. For individual city approaches, see links below:

With the increased availability of housing resources including emergency shelter, we have already seen a reduction in unsheltered homelessness in Washington County. In 2021, Washington County began addressing three active encampments county-wide. Today, in 2023, Washington County has just one active encampment with plans under way to close and restore that location.

With Ordinance #896 in place, law enforcement and housing partners with have clarity on next steps for supporting unsheltered individuals transition into shelter and housing. The five-day warning period (available when shelter is more limited), gives individuals time to work with outreach providers and housing case managers to find a more permanent lodging alternative.

Washington County has collaborated intensely with the Washington County Sheriff’s Office throughout the process of developing Ordinance #896 and they support moving forward with this approach. With the adoption of this ordinance, deputies will have greater clarity and direction around enforcing camping violations.

When there is not adequate shelter available, people camping in public areas will have five days to connect with service providers and Housing staff, until they will be required to move at least 500 feet (1.4 football fields) away from their current camp site.

Washington County will clean abandoned sites as needed and may store belongings collected on public property.

As we learned through the temporary Encampment Management Program (EMP), an unmanaged encampment is not sustainable or effective to connect individuals with housing. In order to protect the best interests of surrounding neighbors and people experiencing homelessness, Washington County has instead prioritized identifying additional emergency shelter.

Through managed shelter programs, safety is ensured through 24/7 staffing and guests are intentionally connected to needed services. Currently, Washington County offers 426 shelter beds/rooms county-wide and we are actively exploring and planning for additional shelter capacity in the coming year. This approach will allow us to ensure that unsheltered homelessness is a low point in time for individuals experiencing homelessness, and not a long-term reality.

Washington County currently offers 426 beds/rooms of shelter with a variety of options including congregate (shared space) shelter, non-congregate (separate rooms) shelter, pod style shelter, and shelter for specific populations such as youth, families, or veterans.

Our shelter capacity fluctuates depending on many factors such as weather and outside temperatures, seasonal capacity, and the need for specific types of shelter. Our team is constantly evaluating the needs of our shelter program and exploring additional locations to continue to meet that need. In the short term, we have been able to offer shelter rooms/beds to unsheltered individuals on a routine basis in 2023.

We also know that shelter is just one component of addressing homelessness. While shelter is an invaluable steppingstone for people experiencing homelessness, our end goal is to help people transition to long-term, affordable housing.

Washington County contracts with experienced shelter operators to meet needs of our shelter guests. Shelter staff are trained in trauma informed care, recognizing signs & symptoms that indicate behavioral health needs, and deescalating crisis situations.

We also recognize our behavioral health services are challenged across the state with needs that outpace available resources. We partner closely with the Washington County Health & Services department and the Hawthorn Walk-In Center to align systems of care and also recognize that just addressing housing instability can have a profound impact on the behavioral health for the program participants we serve.

The second reading and public hearing for Ordinance #896 will take place on July 18, 2023. If adopted by the Board of County Commissioners, the ordinance will be implemented thirty days following their approval.