Church: 'intense' pressure killed homeless parking program

Church: 'intense' pressure killed homeless parking program »Play Video
This May 24, 2012 photo shows a car parked in a space which is proposed to be designated for female homeless motorists in the Moreland Presbyterian Church parking lot in Portland, Ore. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

PORTLAND, Ore. – A Southeast Portland church is ending plans to reserve a parking space for homeless women, saying they received “intense opposition” from neighbors.

Moreland Presbyterian Church, located on SE Bybee Boulevard in the Sellwood neighborhood, was planning an “Overnight Guest Program” that would have reserved a single space in their parking lot for a homeless woman and her children to park and stay in their car overnight.

The woman would have had use of the parking spot and access to a restroom and garbage facilities.

But in a statement posted on their website, the church said publicity and pressure from neighbors has led them to cancel the program before it had a chance to start.

“The amount of publicity generated by the situation created a hostile environment where the church could not be confident about the safety of the people in the car,” the statement read in part. (read the full statement below)

When the program was first announced in May, KATU News spotted one sign in front of a nearby home that read “Moreland Presbyterian Church is NOT a safe place to sleep … let your guests sleep inside!"

The proposed program has stirred up controversy from the outset. Back in May, the controversy reached all the way to Portland City Hall, where city commissioner Nick Fish, who backed the idea, defended it.

"I think we've all been somewhat surprised by how many stereotypes about homeless people have become unleashed in this debate," said Fish, who led the effort to get the program passed.

"I'm not critical of people for having their fears," he added. "I'm just not sure they are well-grounded in fact."

In May, neighbors said the portable toilet for the campers might become a magnet for other homeless people.

They also worry about general nuisances, such as increased noise and whether the homeless women would be safe in their cars. The church flier alerting neighbors to the program arrived almost one year to the day after a homeless man broke into a Sellwood woman's home and sexually assaulted her.

"Sometimes it's easy to be altruistic when you don't have to deal with the issues," said John Needham in May. He lives next to the church.

City officials estimated that as many as 5,000 people are homeless in Portland. "This is not my preferred approach for ending homelessness," Fish said in May. "Allowing people to sleep in their car is no great victory for the cause, but it is — on the margins — better than where we find some people."

The current post on the church’s website also said the church is committed to providing shelter for “our homeless neighbors” and is looking into two other programs to provide assistance, but the programs were not specified by name and no other details were included in the post.

Full statement as posted on the Moreland Presbyterian Church website:

Moreland Presbyterian Church's Session, our governing body, met July 25th to review the status of our plan to participate in the Overnight Parking Pilot project which was proposed by Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon and supported by the Portland City Council.  The church has received intense opposition from some neighbors to the plan to host a homeless woman and children in their car overnight in our parking lot.
While gratified by the support of other neighbors and Portlanders generally, the Session has decided, with real disappointment, not to go forward at this time.  The amount of publicity generated by the situation created a hostile environment where the church could not be confident about the safety of the people in the car.
Moreland is, however, committed to providing shelter to our homeless neighbors, and is investigating at least two other programs through which it can continue its longstanding efforts to assist the growing homeless population in southeast Portland.