Six weeks ago, the Portland City Council seemed ready to buy its way out of its most prominent homelessness problem.
The city agreed Feb. 17 to give $846,000 to the leaders of homeless camp Right 2 Dream Too for the purchase of a new location and an agreement the camp would move out of its Old Town/Chinatown site at West Burnside Street and Southwest 4th Avenue.
To help things along, commercial real-estate broker Cushman & Wakefield created a list of 21 possible sites the city could purchase for the camp ("Camping Trip," WW, March 5, 2014).
Two months later, those options have all but vanished.
"The last potential sites, none of them were working out," says Mark Kramer, Right 2 Dream Too's attorney. "We are no closer to finding a new home."
As few as three sites were under serious consideration.
Two of the leading contenders—vacant lots at 2310 N Albina Ave. and 686 N Russell St.—are next to or near an industrial site contaminated by solvents. Kramer confirms the North Portland locations have been eliminated because of pollution concerns.
The third site seemed like an easier sell—because the city already owns it. But its sale was quietly vetoed by City Commissioner Nick Fish.
The parcel, at 2439 NW 22nd Ave., is a pipe and equipment storage yard for the Bureau of Environmental Services.
City emails show Fish, the commissioner in charge of the bureau, received complaints from several neighbors near the site.
But Fish says that even before the list was released, he had warned City Commissioner Amanda Fritz not to include the .46-acre parcel for consideration.
Fish tells WW that selling to Right 2 Dream Too could mean the city wouldn't get the best possible price. He said he has a policy for selling off city property that requires open bids.
The policy follows an embarrassment involving the city's Water Bureau, which Fish also oversees.
Last fall, the bureau sold a .75-acre parcel in Multnomah Village that included an old water tank to a housing developer—and ignited the anger of neighbors who didn't like the loss of nearby greenspace.
"My responsibility is to make sure that we learn from past mistakes, and that when we dispose of surplus properties, we do it by the book," Fish says.
Fritz could not be reached for comment. Mayor Charlie Hales' spokesman, Dana Haynes, says the city remains committed to finding a campsite.
"The search is taking place where property values are among the highest," Haynes says. "The mayor is committed to the search and so is Commissioner Fritz. We never thought it would be easy."
Right 2 Dream Too has presented a dilemma for Portland officials since 2011, when property owner Michael Wright invited the camp to reside on the former site of Cindy's Adult Bookstore.
The camp has become an intractable icon at the Chinatown gate. The City Council first sought to dislodge it through fines.
Fritz struck a deal with camp leaders last fall to move Right 2 Dream Too under the west end of the Broadway Bridge.
When Pearl District developers objected, Hales canceled the sale and in December found a warehouse in Old Town. But that plan fell apart over the cost of making the building safe to inhabit.
Kramer, the camp's lawyer, says the search for a new location continues.
"It's a big city," he says. "I'm still long-term optimistic. If Right 2 Dream finds a new place, they'd be happy to move."
UPDATE, Thursday, April 3:
City Commissioner Amanda Fritz tells WW that after Commissioner Nick Fish asked for the property at 2439 NW 22nd Ave. to be removed from consideration, leaders at Right 2 Dream Too also rejected the site as not feasible.
"We gave the complete list to Right 2 Dream Too and to the media," Fritz says. "They determined that the BES site is too far from services."