The Portland City Council voted to move the Right 2 Dream Too homeless camp from its current location at the gates of Old Town Chinatown to the Central Eastside— and Gary Rehnberg is not happy about it.
Rehnberg is president of East Side Plating, a 70-year-old custom metal finishing company that sits right next to the site of the proposed relocation at Southeast Third Avenue and Harrison Street. For years, ESP has utilized the site for transportation and parking uses, as the land currently includes a portion of Southeast Harrison.
The Right 2 Dream Too homeless camp could move to the Central Eastside Industrial District if the council votes in favor of a relocation tomorrow.
A council vote in favor of the relocation would vacate that portion of the street so the area could be used by the homeless camp.
“When I first got the news of this, I thought, this is so far out of consideration of being common sense,” Rehnberg said. “It’s really not a desired circumstance.”
Rehnberg’s concerns about relocating the camp are many. For starters, he noted that the city’s Planning and Sustainability Commission voted against vacating the street back in December, but the city has found a way around that — essentially establishing that there will still be enough room for part of the street to be used.
The site is currently zoned for industrial use, though the city has found that a “Community Service” use is allowable on the property. (The city is calling the camp a “rest area.”)
That worries Rehnberg, who said his company uses “corrosive chemistry” in its processes, and so having up to 100 people camping right next door might not be the best fit.
“The city has been so keen on my safety issues for so long that I didn’t think there’d be any way this would be considered an appropriate use at all,” he said. “I didn’t think they’d entertain this at all, but all of a sudden, here we are.”
On top of that, Rehnberg said he is concerned about the safety and security of his employees, customers and facility.
“The issue is not whether these are good people or that we have a homeless or houseless problem,” Rehnberg said. “It’s that this is not the right solution.”
Other area businesses have voiced concerns about the possible relocation of the camp as well. After a meeting with neighbors on Saturday, Portland Mayor Charlie Hales issued a statement that KGW.com shared on its site.
It read, in part:
“This is not a permanent solution. But it creates a safe, organized space for people to sleep while we implement the long-term solutions. It’s not pretty, but it’s better than the random, disorganized camping that’s spread across the Central Eastside area already. This location is in a corner of the the Central Eastside, not in a prime location, but it’s still close to downtown, so people can access services. In five years in Old Town, Right 2 Dream Too has never had police respond to its camp. The same good behavior will continue at the Central Eastside site. And they’ll be permitted at the new site, so the city can enforce that good behavior. I am sympathetic to businesses’ and neighbors’ concerns, and appreciate their patience as we address this crisis.”
What Malsin and other Central Eastside business owners do not support, however, is the city council’s vote to move the camp from its current location in Old Town Chinatown to a city-owned lot at Southeast Third and Harrison.
“I’m very much in favor of Right 2 Dream Too, but I feel that that location, and the plans the city has for it, is inadequate and unacceptable to us on the east side,” Malsin said.
The city council voted 4 to 1 to move the camp. Commissioner Nick Fish was the only dissenter, saying that the zoning for the new site, which is industrial, does not permit that kind of use. Malsin, too, said that there is concern among eastside businesses that the site, which sits next to East Side Plating, a manufacturing company that uses “corrosive chemistry” in its processes, is not the kind of place where people should be camping.
“With its proximity to a chemical plating company, I mean, wow, could you find a less appropriate place for it?” Malsin said. He added as well that the mayor’s new camping provisions, which allow people to sleep overnight on various city properties and sidewalks, have already led to a “blossoming” of campers on the eastside.
Malsin that opponents have a two-week window to appeal the city’s decision. One option could include filing an appeal with the state Land Use Board of Appeals, which is something that Malsin said is under consideration.
“We are exploring all our options,” he said. “We support the camp, but this plan does not meet the minimum requirements for people living on the streets.”
What this means for you
Whatever happens with the move, the areas of discussion will certainly be affected in terms of real estate. Hopefully though, the city can come to a solution which can benefit all affected parties, retaining some of the charm that makes Portland such a desirable city to move to.