The State of Oregon has the second-highest level of unsheltered homelessness in the country and leads the nation in its number of unsheltered homeless families. In response to both these alarming statistics and below-freezing winter temperatures in the Columbia River Gorge, the City Council recently enacted Emergency Resolution No. 20-025 and resolved to address the homelessness public health crisis and temporary shelter emergency by permitting temporary shelter for its homeless population at a City-owned site, funded largely with grants from our community partners, through March 31, 2021.
We understand citizen and business frustrations with the challenges of homelessness in our area and have dedicated resources to balancing the wellbeing of our homeless community with the health, safety, welfare, and quality of life for all who call The Dalles home. While the City intends to continue maximizing available resources to help those in our community manage the often unmanageable stress of unsheltered homelessness during these cold months, our resources are limited: not all who require the City’s temporary shelter site for survival this winter will find space available, and the primary restriction on availability is mandatory compliance with statewide orders and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention COVID-19 guidance limiting the safe number of beds allowed per shelter.
Accordingly, and until the City can fully address this evolving crisis, you may notice unsanctioned and discrete encampments on public property as the City’s homeless population is left with no alternative other than keeping warm in a tent or makeshift shelter. You may also notice the City has not enforced criminal and civil laws prohibiting sleeping or camping on public property—the City’s hands are tied, like all cities in the western United States, by new federal laws forbidding the City from enforcing such ordinances against its homeless citizens when the number of homeless individuals is greater than the number of available shelter beds. See Martin v. City of Boise, 920 F.3d 584 (9th Cir. 2019); Blake v. City of Grants Pass, 2020 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 129494, 2020 WL 4209227 (D. Or. 2020).
To address this challenge, the City has:
- acquired a grant from the Mid-Columbia Community Action Council to triple our number of shelters as early as next month;
- provided portable toilets at Lewis & Clark Festival Park; and
- offered the Homeless ID Program to assist homeless individuals replace lost or stolen state-identification cards, possession of which is a prerequisite to nearly all employment opportunities.
The City is committed to providing safe shelter to its entire population and is coordinating daily with local partners, property owners, and citizens to ensure our community has the resources we need to protect our most vulnerable this winter.