Plans for a downtown homeless camp 'problematic,' city says

Plans for a downtown homeless camp 'problematic,' city says »Play Video

PORTLAND, Ore. - A tent city for the homeless is springing to life in downtown Portland - the latest shot in a feud between the property owner and the city.

Plans for the site went public in The Portland Tribune on Sunday and by Monday the city had already gotten a complaint, so they began investigating the new encampment.

Organizers envision 50 tents in a lot bordered on Burnside by a new fence made of recycled doors. The area lies in the shadow of the historic gateway to Chinatown.

It's the same group that organized Dignity Village near the Portland Airport several years ago, where people are still living.

This new camp isn't meant to be a permanent living situation, but a place where the homeless can stay temporarily.

"Sometimes they may need to sleep for two or three days," said Organizer Ibrahim Mubarak. "Some people may be coming off of drug or alcohol addiction and need to get themselves together."

The lot used to be home to food carts until the city said they had to go because the lot isn't paved. And the city told the property owner he wasn't allowed to pave it because of a moratorium on parking lots.

Before that, the lot held a building with an adult bookstore inside. The owner tore it down after code violations and he accused City Commissioner Randy Leonard and the Bureau of Development of unfairly targeting him.

"What I'm doing is trying to get some use out of the property because the city has denied me almost all usage of the property," said owner Michael Wright.

But on Monday, just a half hour after a dedication ceremony, city inspectors showed up to investigate.

"It potentially looks problematic to do a camp here," said Mike Liefeld, Enforcement Program Manager for the Bureau of Development Services. "The city has a property maintenance code that says it's illegal to occupy tents."

However, Liefeld said the city will look at ways to come to a compromise.

"Our job is to help you be successful," he said. "If there is a way to do this legally, we will let you know that."

The city says the group never contacted them about their plans. The inspectors told the group they need to work with the property owner on a proposal on how they will use the property. Then the city can decide if it's legal.

So is this a situation that can be resolved quickly? Probably not. The city says this could take awhile to sort out.