Re: Interview with Willamette Week on PDX homelessness battles

Elise Aymer

Hi Emerson,

I wish I had a magic funding wand. I was thinking that there are some larger organizations that do have access to greater funds or could get it, either through grant funding or fundraising. It should be possible, as well for organizations to partner for funding -- perhaps with a larger organization acting as a sponsor, putting their name to an initiative in which several other smaller orgs are engaged. It would be amazing to see that kind of collaboration. I think depending on the initiative that crowdfunding is also an option. There is also the possibility that individuals and businesses could donate materials and services and sponsor project.

A number of good possible solutions have been put forward on the listserv.  I tend to think that there isn't a single solution that's needed but several simultaneous ones that speak to the various needs. Each solution/initiative would have different costs and degrees of ease in implementing.

I don't want to feed the dichotomy but people posting have been mentioning a variety of solutions for needs -- some immediate and others longer term, some having to do with housing, shelter, and what I would call supportive services for people on the street or in encampments  (such as someplace people can secure their things, toilets and handwashing stations, showers, dumpsters, etc.).

Example: While there may be a hold on villages at the moment, is it the case that the city would block the expansion of mobile shower services? Would they block the setup of a network of lockers where people could store their stuff? Would activists need to wait on the City to provide better structure designs, like the tarpees Mimi has mentioned?  

I think the reality is that even if by some miracle there were villages enough to meet the need on paper that there would still be people on the street or living in their cars who would need help/services.

Re land: Public land would be ideal. It is the case though that land lots are for sale in the city. The costs vary by location but Portland isn't San Francisco or Seattle and so most are in the hundreds of thousands with some in the tens of thousands versus millions. Linking to some land listings here:

Buying land could be something factored into funding an initiative. Granted it still would not be zoned for use as a village and may have other issues as well but would get around the City liability roadblock and depending on how insulated it is from other properties lean into some of the security benefits of private property.

Leasing land or structures is another option. I think Tim McCormick knows of intentional communities in California that have done this. There are, I think, the same concerns with zoning and inspection services as there would be with buying property. Lower levels of insecurity and peril from sweeps/raids as unsanctioned encampments on public property though.

After Tom mentioned liability, I started looking into it and thought, as you mentioned Emerson that there must be some workaround. A way for the City to designate land for another use and then not look too closely at how it's actually been used. I found, however, though I didn't look too deeply into it, that even in situations where land is designated for camping (as in a state park) that the state accepts at least basic liability for what happens there. The one out seems to be when liability is legislated away for the location/use and I couldn't find any actual cases of that.

Something I have been thinking about a lot is how the governmental, bureaucratic process seems to pit organizations and activists against one another rather than encourage working together or community-based, grassroots action.

Reading through the posts here, I see so many good ideas, will and energy - much of it directed at trying to get City Hall or the County to budge on individual solutions. And the politicos seem disinclined to do what's actually necessary for some strong and often non-transparent reasons.

It would be wonderful to see folks come together more.


On Tue, May 25, 2021 at 11:38 AM Emerson This <emersonthis@...> wrote:
Can you say a bit more about the alternative finding sources you described? I believe that a safe, humane village / camp (along the lines of what I described previously) could be established for as little as $15k. I feel like Wheeler’s shoes cost more than that. But I don’t have anywhere close to that in my back pocket and my NA typically has around $200 in the bank...

The other big missing piece is the land. Even if we get cash to build yurts, etc we need to put them somewhere. I don’t have a moral objection to setting up camps in certain places without permission, but I don’t think it’s effective in the long run. The goal is to create a safe place where people can live instead of just survive. And with no buy-in from the city or community, folks will always be looking over their shoulders, as Mimi described. 

Maybe the first step is to get the city to designate unused land for a use that they can euphemistically call whatever they want to avoid liability. Then communities step in to improve those spaces. If the first couple go well, maybe it could gain momentum?

On May 24, 2021, at 9:09 PM, Elise Aymer <elise@...> wrote:

Emerson and Tom:

Tom - I think you are right about sanctioned villages and liability. Official encampments mean the City agreeing to guarantee their safety. This does seem a major, if unnamed sticking point. 

Re negotiating with neighborhood associations for unsanctioned camps -- the associations don't speak for all of the housed residents. Couldn't sweeps happen triggered by complaints from just a few of those residents who are unaware of or not on board with the association's agreement with the encampment? This question isn't meant to shoot down your idea - just thinking it through...

Emerson - Obviously the money that the City and County have is significant and they have it earmarked for some housing use, however, I don't think it's true that money for these efforts doesn't exist elsewhere. There are a lot of people on this listserv, many of them representing organizations that work on housing and homelessness, who have funding or could get it. Fundraising for specific efforts also seems a possibility. What I notice in reading through the listserv messages though is that most of these folks are working independently and often on a solution that they think of as "the one." It seems like, as Tom was saying, more would get done acting together -- pooling resources, access to funding and integrating approaches.

There is definitely more interest at City Hall and at the County in talking about these issues and in seeming to do something about them (even if it's not what the people most affected say they need) but as Mimi said, in the meantime (and especially if there are significant reasons like liability why we won't see official villages) people will die.




On Mon, May 24, 2021 at 8:27 PM Emerson This <emersonthis@...> wrote:
Well said, Tom.

I like the bottom-up / “guerrilla” approach, too. The impasse I see is that NAs don’t have any money. The kinds of immediate, high-impact solutions we’re talking about would be a rounding error for the city budget, but very tough for ordinary citizens to self-fund from their own pockets.

Maybe the big question is how to get funding from the city while still giving them plausible deniability. Essentially allowing the NAs (or whoever) act as a liability shield for the politicians. Are we on to something here?

On May 24, 2021, at 4:33 PM, Tom Hickey <Hickeyt+BNA.PDX@...> wrote:

 I am not an expert on any of these topics but I am the current chair of the Bridgeton Neighborhood Association in North Portland, and for the last year have written letters and sat on committees trying to break down the bureaucratic walls that prevent government action to authorize sanctioned locations for camps. I think that one unspoken obstacle that prevents government participation is liability. Every person who is injured, sickens or dies in a sanctioned camp is a lawsuit waiting to happen and the city legal team is probably having secret conniption fits every time a council person says anything in support of supported camping. So long as the camps are illegal, the government avoids liability for the health of camp residents.

I think guerrilla camps are called for, and I think that, behind closed doors, will get support from City Hall. This is only true though, if the camps also have local support from their housed neighbors as a buffer against sweeps. Sweeps are triggered when housed neighbors protest, so camp locations need to be negotiated in good faith from both sides of the situation in order to thrive.

Neighborhood Associations are NOT city entities, although there are links and influences. I am surely biased on the subject, but I think that local people can negotiate with each other without the city and its bureaucratic obstacles and come to mutually agreeable terms, then TELL the city how it's going to be.

I am disheartened when I see people on either side of
the conversation, including in this thread, name calling or dehumanizing their counterparts. It reminds me of the Palestine/Israel crisis, and is not productive. Enough fighting amongst ourselves when working together is the way forward.

On 5/24/2021 1:03 PM, Jayme Delson wrote:

Hi Mimi,

Can you advise , i do not see a choice in the matter.  without permission of the bureaucracy they end up being swept away, sadly.  Over the decades i have suffered thorough seeing this happen countless times.

With a kind and competent team willing to do the work and carry on after it is established, in many locations it could be done in months, i propose!

Sincerely Jayme

On 5/24/2021 12:44 PM, Mimi German wrote:
Jayme, everything about your email reminds me that going at this via the very same bureaucracy that created it will only lead to its already known end which is, with nothing accomplished i.e., villages for houseless. Far too many people will die on the streets by following the route of permissions from here to eternity. I cringed when I read all the hoops in your email. There is nothing in the route you suggest that even hints at immediacy. Without immediate action, more will die on the streets. We are beyond permission to be humane for the sake of bureaucracy.

On Mon, May 24, 2021 at 10:22 AM Jayme Delson <jayme@...> wrote:
Hi All,
Emerson, I fully agree. 

I have a slide show presentation that outlines this.  It calls for an emergency iteration Phase 1, and a permanent iteration Phase 2.  It brakes down initial start up costs and operating costs for Phase 1 and also for Phase 2.  As well as a cost comparison to current models.  Additionally it outlines a vision of what such a place may look like as it evolves.

I have found support within local planning departments and among elected officials as well.

So far i have had the most difficulty in finding people who can make a little time to spear head such a course of action.  Winning over elected officials, community development departments as well as the citizens in the general area of such villages.  As well as all the documentation necessary to satisfies everyone's questions etc.

Also a team is needed to help initially establish such places, as well as resolve and avert potential difficulties etc. 

On 5/23/2021 9:33 PM, Emerson This wrote:
Thanks for sharing this, Tim!

In that interview you touched on several things that I've been thinking/feeling for a long time! The main take-away for me is that the debate between "permanent" housing vs immediate remedies to the humanitarian crisis is a false dichotomy. We need BOTH! My sense is that the conversation has devolved into competing factions mostly because we know there's insufficient political will and/or funding to do both. In other words, there's no practical reason why we couldn't walk AND chew gum. Rather, we feel like we can't afford the gum and the walking shoes. Do we have to accept this constraint?

Obviously, the money has to come from somewhere. But it's frustrating and tragic that the options seem to have been reduced to expensive long-term "permanent" housing solutions or slightly-less-expensive short-term alternative shelters / villages. I don't have anything against either of those approaches. But I talk to unhoused people on a weekly basis, and they list the same urgent needs you mention in your interview. Folks repeatedly ask for the same super basic things: trash bags. Anywhere to stay dry and not get harassed. A way to prevent their stuff from getting stolen so they can leave their campsite to do... anything besides guard their stuff all day! These specific problems just aren't that complicated or expensive. I know because I've seen it with my own eyes. I've seen ordinary citizens take it on themselves to provide trash cans, upgrade tents to make them warmer and drier, provide places to secure stuff... etc. These kinds of things immediately improve the lives of unhoused people and their housed neighbors and they cost pennies. Of course, many of the folks on this forum already know all this. But I never hear anyone in City Hall talk like this. It seems like the politics of the moment (and tons of red tape) have made it suicideal to consider simple, imperfect, commonsense ideas.

I wonder what readers of this forum think? Do we have the stomach for admittedly imperfect, short-term solutions? For example, what if the city magically escaped the political gridlock and sanctioned unused spaces all across the city for camping. Maybe each one gets a dumpster. And maybe they even buy hundreds of  cheap garden sheds. I'll be the first to admit this is not "good enough" in the long term and flawed in many ways. But it's also 100 times better than the current situation, right? And it could literally be accomplished in days for less than the cost of a single fancy shelter or village. To be clear, I'm not claiming this is the solution. It's just a hypothetical example of the kinds of messy, imperfect ideas that I wish there was more space for.

On Sun, May 23, 2021 at 3:44 PM Tim McCormick <tmccormick@...> wrote:
WW interviewed me, I wrote it up:

"The houseless vs the settlement: interview with Willamette Week".  

a field report from Portland's increasingly heated, fractious homelessness policy battles.

discussing, among others: 
County Commissioner Sharon Meieran, 
County Chair Deborah Kafoury 
PSU Homelessness Research & Action Collaborative director Dr. Marisa Zapata 
Homer Williams, founder of Oregon Harbor of Hope
Councilmember Dan Ryan.

Sophie Peel, Reporter, WW
Mark Zusman, Publisher WW
Aaron Mesh, Editor, WW 
Nigel Jaquiss, Reporter, WW
Rachel Monahan, Reporter, WW
Tess Riski, Reporter, WW
[note to WW staff or others receiving this email: you can reply to PDX Shelter Forum by using Reply to All or addressing to].
Tim McCormick
Moderator PDX Shelter Forum, Editor at HousingWiki,
Organizer at Village Collaborative
Portland, Oregon 


Elise Aymer
Co-founder, Critical Diversity Solutions
Pronouns: She/her

Thanks for your message!


Elise Aymer
Co-founder, Critical Diversity Solutions
Pronouns: She/her

Thanks for your message!

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