Portland adopts new licensing rules for homeless shelters

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Portland city councilors on Monday approved new licensing requirements for emergency shelters.

Under the requirements, shelters must apply for and receive licenses within 90 days after the order becomes effective, which is 30 days from the council’s Nov. 15 vote.

Seal of the city of portlandThe licensing amendment to the city code includes a two-tier fee structure for small and large emergency shelters, a density cap of 300 beds within a one-mile radius, a 1,000-foot buffer zone between shelters, and a requirement to provide day space.

There would be exemptions for existing shelters, and something like a domestic violence shelter could apply for waivers for various requirements.

It will also require regular meetings between shelter operators and neighborhood residents, something Councilor Belinda Ray – an advocate for slowing shelter development in Bayside and the chair of the committee that recommended the licensing – said has not been regularly occurring.

While the changes apply to all new shelters, the impetus was the situation in the city’s Bayside neighborhood, which has several shelters. One of them, the Oxford Street Shelter, will eventually be replaced by a 208-bed shelter planned for Riverside Street.

Mayor Kate Snyder said it is appropriate for the city to license new shelters, and added she was surprised such language didn’t already exist. She said the language is broad and allows staff discretion, but that is not a bad thing.

“Sometimes broad policy is the best policy,” she said.

Additionally, Snyder said she hopes Portland will serve as a blueprint for other municipalities to also address homelessness in the region.

“Not only is this good for Portland, but it’s good for other communities as they contemplate becoming part of the solution,” the mayor said.

The council vote was 7-1, with Councilor Andrew Zarro opposed.

Zarro said he wasn’t satisfied with the information presented, and there were unanswered questions about how the licensing would impact domestic violence shelters and existing shelters that may not meet the requirements.

The council adopted a moratorium on new shelters in Bayside over the summer, which would temporarily halt new shelters in that part of the city.

The last shelter in Bayside to receive city approval was the 40-bed wellness center at the former Preble Street Resource Center. Formerly a soup kitchen and resource center, Preble Street transitioned away from those services following medical guidance due to the coronavirus pandemic.