The City of Oregon City recognizes homelessness as a critical issue impacting multiple sectors of our community.
Following is a summary of the various strategies and programs implemented in an effort to address homelessness in Oregon City.
In 2017 the Oregon City Police Department (OCPD) created a Homeless Liaison Officer (HLO) position to act as an outreach connection for the homeless community. The City's Police Department and Code Enforcement Division contracted with a homeless liaison consultant in 2019 to further assist with outreach coordination efforts. This consultant connects individuals with services such as Father's Heart Street Ministry and Bybee Lakes Hope Center. OCPD established a Behavioral Health Unit (BHU) by hiring a Mental Health Specialist in 2020. As the homeless population has grown in Oregon City, police officers have increasingly been called to help with issues in the community that involve people with mental illness. Most of these calls are not criminal in nature, they are people who need help. When the police are called for such incidents, the BHU can respond to the scene with officers to provide guidance and aid in problem-solving. The Law Enforcement Diversion Program (LEAD) is a common resource utilized by the OCPD HLO and BHU. This program helps redirect individuals committing specified law violations due to behavioral health conditions such as substance use or mental health to community-based services instead of jail and prosecution.
Implementing Programs & Funding for Change
In 2020 OCPD applied for and was granted $25,000 in Metro Enhancement funds to go toward a Homeless Camp Cleanup Program and to assist in expenses incurred by contracting a homeless consultant. A second grant was applied for in 2021 for an additional $25,000. The goals of this cleanup program are to provide services to the homeless community living in the City, so they are no longer living on the streets, and to have public areas cleaned on a regular basis to discourage and eliminate large encampments.
Because homelessness is a complex and challenging issue, but also a top priority, the City Commission and the City's Executive Team met multiple times for a series of goal-setting workshops with a goal to align around a shared vision, to discuss current community projects and issues and provide City staff with direction regarding the Commission's priorities for the coming years. The Homelessness Strategy is a product of the 2022 City Commission Goal Number 4: Adopt and Implement a homelessness strategy for Oregon City. Furthermore, the City Commission will develop partnerships with other local and regional governments to develop local and regional solutions for serving the homeless population.
Limits of Enforcement and Case Law
The Ninth Circuit Federal Court ruling, Martin versus the City of Boise, prohibits cities from enforcing anti-camping and similar ordinances unless the City has provided alternative shelter. Oregon is part of the Ninth Circuit, so this decision applies to Oregon municipalities, and limits enforcement in some instances. A second ruling, Blake versus City of Grants Pass (PDF) provides another example of case law explaining how municipalities can be in violation of the Eight Amendment if the person cited had no meaningful alternative to sleeping outside. To outline a process to ensure the humane treatment of individuals during the process of cleaning homeless encampments, Oregon City created a Clean-up of Unauthorized Campsites on Public Property Policy (PDF) and amended Ordinance 20-1004 (PDF) approved by the City Commission in March 2020.