Re: Action Alert: 4pm Deadline Today to Sign S2HC Advocacy Letter

Tim McCormick

1. Success! Our S2HC testimony submitted, thanks all around. 
2. A note on Open Space and Public Land debates.
4. Allow shelters in multi-dwelling Residential and mixed-use zones. 
5. The Big Point: are we truly enabling response on the scale of need, and fast enough? if not now, when, and how? 
6. Discuss: are our organizing methods here working, any suggestions? 

1)  success! we submitted the community testimony letter on Shelter to Housing Continuum by the 5pm Monday deadline. You can see the testimony as submitted, with all co-signers listed, at:  (or for reference/backup, direct link to PDF doc, and ALL written testimony here). 

Also, we saw that our open research/discussion document, where we drafted the letter, also informed the testimony of many others such as Sightline Institute, Sarah Iannarone / Our Portland, etc, either because they mentioned/thanked us, and/or you can see language from our doc in their letters. (which is fine, part of the point! join, follow, adapt, it's an open coalition of the willing to various degrees, you don't have to be either with us or against us!).

big THANKS to deft last-day team effort including Sean Green, Heather Flint Chatto, Keith Wilson, Margaret A Zebroski, and all those who commented/suggested or sent in testimony Monday. We incorporated the suggestions made, from Heather, Keith, Margaret, Sean, and others from the last few weeks via the open Google Doc or our two open work sessions or other channels. Altogether, the late sprint greatly helped the testimony in forcefulness and concreteness of suggestion, and breadth of perspectives. 

2)  A note on the key OPEN SPACE debate and PUBLIC LAND: 
what the city calls "Open Space" zones make up much of the orange area on the map below taken from S2HC Proposed Draft; the rest is Industrial/Employment zones. Green indicates where, by comparison, Outdoor Shelters would be an allowed use in the current S2HC Proposed Draft. We note, there is waaay more orange than green. Also, a lottt of that green is in or near downtown, places that aren't very open
Screen Shot 2020-12-08 at 5.22.35 PM.png
I read all the written testimony after the deadline passed, and saw there was a specific big, late wave of testimony in last few days focused on and opposing Outdoor Shelters in what the city calls Outdoor Space zones. However, you can see that there is not wide or clear understanding of what constitutes OS, and often an implicit or explicit equation of it to Parks, or fragile natural spaces such as near Johnson Creek. It's not explained much in the S2HC Proposed Draft; there is an online, dynamic zoning map (, but it takes some work to examine what all is classified OS. There's a fair amount of OS land that is around highways, especially I-205; a ton in Forest Park and Linnton Park and adjoining areas; much of far North Portland north of Columbia Slough, and so on. 

In our letter we made a limited suggestion of considering certain Open Space sites, particularly those where Community Centers exist. A number of these currently ARE in use for temporary shelters, and have regularly been used so for many years. Not banning what we currently do, or everything in such a wide zoning category, seems a reasonable idea to me. 

However, after reading and considering all this, I think proposing use of these Open Space zones is a tough battle to fight currently. Confused and overbroad as the OS zoning concept may be, to Portlanders it means parks and 'natural' spaces, of which they are strongly and rightfully proud & protective, and (somewhat unfortunately imo) they tend to see any habitation use of them as a threat. [Personally, I view it more as just another possible public use, like we have campgrounds and cabins in national parks and forests and some cities, or might use park facilities in a natural emergency situation. Also, we might consider that many Portlanders do live in these places now, we might get better outcomes by recognizing and managing it than by declaring it prohibited. We might conceivably even enable, empower, &/or hire people to be stewards of the land they live amid, which people tend to do with land they feel some stake in].

BUT, what's true or right may not necessarily be strategic. I'm thinking a better angle that includes but reframes this may be, to ask HOW, in this huge public chronic and crisis issue, are we as a humane and thinking public making good use of a crucial public resource, our PUBLIC LAND, to help addresss the problem? 

Screen Shot 2020-12-22 at 10.31.53 AM.png
Public (city) land is land we own, for us to decide what to do with. It's used for all kinds of things, and multiple things overlapping and changing over time. 
Public land includes:
  • City Hall, the Portland Building, and the Rose Garden and treasured parks,
  • many, many parking lots, including the part of one that Right 2 Dream Too rest area (pictured above) is sited on in the Rose Quarter. 
  • land planned for future development by e.g. Prosper Portland (former Portland Development Commission)
  • the land under Dignity Village.
  • loads of areas along roads and highways,
  • 100,000s of street and public lot parking spaces, many square miles of space, which is reserved and maintained for usually free, comfortable accommodation of... private vehicles, as long as people aren't in them. Wait, what? what homelessness crisis? 
How about: 1) any land planned for possible future housing development, let's cut to the chase and put interim village housing on it now? Many people are willing to build and run that and live so, if just allowed to use this, you know, public land. This, incidentally, is almost exactly what was done to site Kenton Women's Village (see photo below, by Peter Eckert), is done regularly by Low Income Housing Institute in Seattle, and has become a widely recognized model for the use of planned Affordable Housing sites. 


Now, 2) spare a few hundred or thousand of those 100,000s of parking spaces on public right-of-way or parking lots, for the use of people in need. Rather than strictly for storing the vehicles of housed people not so much in need? That is to say, surely we might recognize, decriminalize, and sensibly manage what is already being done by probably 1000s of people every night in the Portland area? 

Plus, the beautiful thing is that unlike many responses to unhousedness, permitted vehicle dwelling in public offers a remarkably smooth progression into and supply of 'permanent' housing at low cost. Because, under proposed Shelter to Housing Continuum provisions, vehicle dwellers could move to being hosted on a private residence, and potentially then to being anchored to foundation, and then possibly upbuilt/upgraded to a permanent Accessory Dwelling or cottage. 

All this with the excellent side effect of potentially offering site rental income to 100s to 1000s of lower-income Portland homeowners who especially now may be struggling to make mortgage payments or keep their homes. Truly feeding two birds with one seed, or like Drake said, making sure the outcome is the income; like, holistic. 

4) Make shelters an allowed use in multi-dwelling Residential and mixed-use zones. 
that's generally the blue area in map above, and close to arterial (main) roads. Allowed use means it can be done "by right", not requiring the 120-day, $25k+, appealable Conditional Use process. This would allow Outdoor Shelters to begin as temporary uses where shelter residents could be in, errr, Residential zones, and stay there if the site/village were developed and approved for longer-term by C.U. 

5. The Big Point:  are we truly enabling response on the scale of need, and fast enough?
Right now in debating zoning we are, you might say, rearranging the fences on the Titanic. It doesn't in itself shelter or house anyone, and at some point diverts us from that. 
Instead of debating rules, of unknown sufficiency, for us to muddle through with later, we might say: the scale of need is 5-30,000 shelter accommodations or low-cost homes. In terms of sheltering all the City+County's current 'unsheltered' population, that's estimated at around 4,000 'beds', or  80-150 'village' sites of 20-50 people. 

We could be asking of the City and planning officials: you're the experts and have the best info, so show us the 80-150 sites you are enabling for villages via the proposed rules. So we can all together get doing developing and funding and putting these into operation. If City/Planning process currently is, not that, let's ask ourselves, how can we build this site/project list ASAP and be building? Winter is still coming. 

6. Finally: are our organizing methods here working, any suggestions? 

Screen Shot 2020-12-22 at 10.45.57 AM.png

We have kind of stumbled into what seems a fairly efficient, open, ad-hoc advocacy/organizing method. Do you think this works, what will go wrong, or what might you do differently?: 
  1. For a given issue or goal, loosely convene allied advocates and interesteds around shared, (semi-?)public, collaborative document for research/drafting, and possibly live work sessions as we did.
  2. Run a discussion forum (this one) that shares updates and wider discussion on this project(s). 
  3. Periodically or as needed, make a summary testimony or talking-points section, post and date that, wrap a form on it that allows anyone to easily co-sign it or adapt it.  
  4. Publish, present, or submit this position letter as representing the loose coalition, e.g. 'ShelterPDX', plus and particularly particularly whoever cosigns. 
People can participate or endorse in different degrees, or not at all -- organic coalitions of the willing. Perhaps there doesn't even need to be a single position -- if the group can't agree, do two position statements, let people co-sign one or both or neither or which one they saw, as they prefer? The group, like people, can be of multiple minds, in a managed way. 
What do you think?  

Tim McCormick
Moderator at ShelterPDX /  PDX Shelter Forum, Editor at HousingWiki,
Organizer at Village Collaborative
Portland, Oregon 


On Mon, Dec 21, 2020 at 1:47 PM Keith Wilson <keithwilson@...> wrote:

Tim & Sean,


Well said. Thanks to both you and Sean for your guidance. I have signed onto the doc. In addition, I sent the following testimony to expand on the Community Center code request:


“Currently, Community Centers are coded Open Spaces, OS, and Mass Shelter Prohibited. Portland is using these resources as Mass Shelters (e.g. Charles Jordan, Mt Scott). Please change the designation for Community Centers to Mass Shelter available (remove prohibited designation).” 33.285.050 does not list OS as an available zone for Mass Shelters.


Community Centers are positioned throughout our city to support our communities and neighborhoods. Everything they stand for is positive. I cannot think of a more honorable use than saving the lives of our neighbors who have lost their homes. We should repurpose these huge, valuable assets, that all have bathrooms and showers, at night as shelters. Anderson and Martin would no longer be an issue because the city would have a flex / flow opportunity to support safe sleep for 100% of our citizens. This would result in zero tents and structures being needed by the vulnerable in Portland.


TriMet leadership and I recently partnered on a demonstration ( on how this concept would work. We repurposed the Gateway Park & Ride as a Pop-Up Shelter. To learn more, please watch this short video or call me at your convenience.


Please reflect on these benefits and change the code to accommodate. Every Portlanders deserves to sleep in a bed every night.


Assuring you of my best intentions.


Keith Wilson”




From: <> On Behalf Of Tim McCormick via
Sent: Monday, December 21, 2020 10:25 AM
Subject: Re: [pdxshelterforum] Action Alert: 4pm Deadline Today to Sign S2HC Advocacy Letter


I would differ from Sean's proposal, in the joint letter draft as it stands, to defer passing Shelter to Housing Continuum (S2HC) program from the current April goal. Also generally I favor taking any suggestions as far as possible to concrete, plausible amendments. This is what the Commission can do, amend the proposal, they can use help getting any such drafted.


As I see it, asking to defer S2HC this would be asking the Bureau of Planning & Sustainability and the Planning and Sustainability Commission to not carry out the duty City Council asked them to perform: to prepare a S2HC reform package before the April 1 2020 [1st? 15th?] expiration of current Housing State of Emergency. The appropriate object of advocacy for deferring it would be City Council, which alone can enact or defer the package. I could see PSC possibly recommending to them some type of continuation or later phase of the process, but can't see them declining to pass a reform package by April. 


Also open question, what could or would we do, given more time by deferring of S2HC, that we can't do now?  ("If not here, where? If not now, when?" my ShelterPDX slogan). 


I'd suggest articulating what provisions we might *want* to achieve were the process extended, and consider how they might be pursued a) now, or b) after an S2HC passed in April. There would be some advantages to having current proposal passed then, e.g. sooner removing uncertainty about siting mobile dwellings on residential lots. Could we propose these 'wants' now as amendments? 


Could we get PSC commissioners to advise the city to pursue certain other items in follow-up ordinances? Could S2HC be amended to require an evaluation of its efficacy and sufficiency after, say, one year, and suggest goals against which it would need to be evaluated? 


I imagine a case such as, S2HC passing with the proposed exclusion of shelters from all residential lots; then, the moral conscience of the city belatedly awakening to this blatant exclusionary zoning and denial of resident rights/status to the houseless. Would it be implausible, or insurmountable, for City Council to pass an ordinance directing BPS to revise municipal code Title 33 as needed to change this, and then it approving the revised code? 


BPS obviously preferred to bundle a wide set of issues into one 'project', but we might ask, what interests did that serve, really? I've heard many people say they felt it was impossible to sort through the 100s of pages of detailed, interlocking provisions, or consider the possible impacts, and I've heard highly experienced PSC commissioners say that they didn't until last week notice crucial items in the proposal, such as it's ending of the city's Housing State of Emergency declaration process.


By contrast, an advocacy effort focused specifically on something like the exclusionary zoning of S2HC could bring this item out of the thickets of code where it was kind of sliding by amid 100 diverting other matters.



Tim McCormick

Moderator, PDX Shelter Forum; Editor at HousingWiki

Portland, Oregon 



On Mon, Dec 21, 2020 at 6:05 AM Sean Green <green@...> wrote:

The deadline to submit testimony on the S2HC Proposed Draft is today at 5pm. You can sign onto the S2HC Proposed Draft Advocacy Letter by completing a simple form here

You can also submit your own testimony through the Portland Map App here


More information on the S2HC project can be found on the BPS website here and in our project document here







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