Hillsboro officials are planning to open the city's first-ever managed camping facility for homeless people on city-owned property.
The camp, located on an undeveloped grassy field south of Southwest Wood Street west of the Jackson Bottom Wetlands Preserve, is expected to open in mid-June and last for about six months until winter sheltering becomes available, officials say.
Thirty campers will have access to sanitary resources such as portable bathrooms and handwashing stations, tents on raised, designated platforms and sleeping bags.
The facility will have 24/7 supervision by Project Homeless Connect, which managed a similar facility in Hillsboro created by Washington County last year.
The project comes as Hillsboroans have been urging the city to address an increase in the visibility of homelessness throughout the city, likely brought on by the pandemic.
Last fall, as sheltering options quickly reached capacity and city officials paused camp removal efforts in accordance with public health officials' recommendations due to the pandemic, several large camps grew on public and private property in Hillsboro.
Advocates said at the time that without government-sanctioned outdoor camping facilities where people could bring their belongings, unsanctioned camps would continue to grow.
"We have heard from many community members that Hillsboro's livability is suffering," said Simone Brooks, assistant city manager, during a May 18 work session to discuss the project with the Hillsboro City Council.
She added that the city receives complaints about homelessness-related pollution and people feeling unsafe with perhaps equal frequency to complaints about there not being enough shelter beds or other social services.
City officials say they chose the location for the camp because it will limit any negative impacts on nearby businesses and residents.
The property is close to Hillsboro's public safety training facility, allowing police to easily patrol the area, said City Manager Robby Hammond.
Nearby business and property-owners have voiced opposition to the project, however, said Justin DeMello, project manager for Hillsboro, at the May 18 work session.
Kelly Emmons, who owns two nearby properties, said during a public comment period ahead of the work session that people in the area have already been experiencing vandalism, property theft and other issues she attributed to homeless people.
"This project is going to bring increased crime, increased pollution, devalued properties," she said. "We are just putting a Band-Aid on it and having the taxpayers pay for this so they don't have to contribute or work as hard as we do."
City officials don't yet know how much it will cost to open the camp, said city spokesman Patrick Preston. Since 2019, the city has spent about $440,000 on supportng organizations and programs that provide resources to unhoused people.
Emmons said the city finalized the location without allowing community members to be part of the selection process.
She was also concerned that people wouldn't have to pass a drug test before being allowed to stay at the camp.
Advocates argue that barriers to shelter such as drug tests are counterproductive to public safety, because they leave people struggling with addiction without a safe place to sleep.
In response to questions from city councilors about neighbors' concerns, Kim Marshall, director of Project Homeless Connect, said her staff will lean on their longstanding relationships with potential campers and the police to ensure the camp and surrounding areas are kept free of pollution, drug use and violence.
She said Project Homeless Connect is currently working with Washington County, hoping that money available in July from the Metro's Supportive Housing Services measure will directly fund onsite mental health and addiction services at the camp.
Marshall also called for an education campaign directed at the Hillsboro community about the root causes of homelessness and how trauma impacts people.
"I so desperately want to validate any concerns" from the community, Marshall said. "And I so desperately want to stop the stereotype of homeless being violent and criminals."