Peer-run safe sleep encampment and green space
City sanctioning of designated peer-run camping sites is an inexpensive short-term response to our housing and houseless emergency. We establish such camps quickly in cases of natural disasters; it is a mystery why we cannot do the same for this policy-generated disaster. Indeed, Seattle currently has six self-governed camps with results that match or exceed those of traditional shelters (Seattle, “Permitted Encampment Evaluation,” 2017) . These could be established on unused public land — for instance unimproved dead end alleys (as suggested by City personnel), ODOT land, or fire department property such as the Gideon Triangle.
The self-managed governance structure of peer-run camps offers residents ways to positively contribute to the day-to-day operations and community engagement efforts of the site while building confidence, leadership, and negotiation skills. This increases the sense of well-being and reduces the harm and trauma often experienced in crowded, traditional, top-down shelters. Indeed, in a 2017 comparison Seattle found that 26% of peer-run campers successfully exited into long-term housing compared to 18% of those in traditional shelters; 13% in peer-run camps entered transitional housing compared to 8% in traditional shelters (p. 9 Seattle, “Permitted Encampment Evaluation,” 2017).
In addition to positive outcomes for unhoused residents, peer-run shelters in places like Seattle neighborhoods have contributed to positive outcomes in the neighborhoods in which they are embedded. In the case of Seattle, the six peer-run camps led to increased housed neighbor engagement and support of unhoused neighbors in the form of cooperative projects, visits, conversation, and physical donations (p. 9). The Seattle study also found that there was “no significant increase in crime because of encampments… (while) increased numbers of people did come to the neighborhood in search of a safe place to stay.” Additional articles, analyzing Portland and Seattle have found crime has actually gone down in areas where peer-run encampments have been established (Lynes, 05/25/2018; Schmid, 05/23/2018; Fritz & Theen, 10/3,/2013; Przybylinski, Stephen, 2015)
Peer-run, safe sleep encampments proposal
The basic elements of the governance within these peer-run camps are
- Democratic decision-making with every member having an equal vote. Paid staff does not have a vote in camp decisions.
- All residents contribute to the day-to-day operation of the encampment. This includes contributing to camp security, participating in neighborhood service activities and other operational duties.
- Residents hold each other accountable for individual actions. A grievance procedure is used to resolve conflicts.
- Residents can be barred from camp for serious violation of the rules. Barred individuals are asked to leave the camp property. Re-entry can be petitioned depending on the severity of the offense.
- Camp security is a critical part of the successful operation of the permitted encampments. External complaints are handled through permitted encampment procedures that are designed for fast and efficient response. Generally, the permitted encampment staff are the first contacted when a problem is identified.
We can improve upon these positive neighborhood-wide outcomes by following the lead suggested in many studies showing rehabilitating abandoned properties into inviting community gardens substantially decreases violent crime and increase community safety at rates far exceeding traditional policing/social service-strategies of abatement (Branas, et. al. 2016; Harcourt, 2001, Browning et. al, 2010). We can achieve this by pairing a peer-run encampment with nearby permaculture pockets and greenspace improvements that camp members could care take. In Philadelphia, such inexpensive improvements to abandoned buildings and derelict spaces reduced gun violence by 39%, returning $5.00 to $26.00 to the community for every dollar spent (Branas, et. al. 2016).
Based on information from Nickelsville encampment in Seattle and one PDX Pitstop Trailer, we believe the cost of running a similar program in the Central Eastside would approximate the following. We believe there are creative ways of connecting with city and non-profit partners to help share the costs of this program. Right2Survive has ample experience in developing these programs and would be interested in working with partners on facilitating the development of capacities needed to establish and maintain a peer-run camp.
Peer-run safe car camping program
In Portland, those residing in their cars, vans, or trucks are affected by a complex array of laws regarding prohibited uses of vehicles and of camping on public property. (https://www.nlchp.org/documents/No_Safe_Place). Those who park-and-camp on city streets or parking lots receive citations and exclusions which frequently turn into criminal infractions when they are unable to pay tickets or return to park in an area from which they have been excluded. Portland additionally impounds people’s cars, robbing car-campers of their homes and safety from the uncertainties of street camping. Our current practices not only make our neighbors experiencing houselessness more vulnerable; they generate a costly drain on public funds — pointlessly running up policing, ticketing, prosecuting, jailing, and impounding costs those punished cannot afford and do not end up paying. A safe parking program on the Central Eastside could help mitigate houseless trauma and impoverishment by offering a secure place where our unhoused neighbors can securely sleep without harassment while reducing ineffectual public expenditure on enforcement.
Safe parking proposal
Safe Parking Programs typically use existing public or privately-owned parking infrastructure to provide vehicle residents with a safe, reliable, and legal place to park. We propose that the Central Eastside community identify religious entities, sympathetic organizations, and unused public land — for instance unimproved dead end alleys (as suggested by City personnel), ODOT land, or fire department property such as the Gideon Triangle — where we might allow residents who live in their vehicles to park their cars without penalty as long as they follow rules established by dwellers and community members in the area, to be enforced and amended by those living in their vehicles. There are many models to choose from; which type of program would depend on the type of property used and the communities involved. A positive rapid beginning would be to work with local churches to develop a car-camping strategy built on the model currently used in Vancouver, WA.