Tigard Considers ‘Safe Lots’ for those Living in Cars

Safe Lots, City of Tigard, houselessness
Scene outside of All Stop Pipes and Tobacco on Main Street.

The issue of homelessness is drawing more and more attention from City Hall as Tigard staff grapple with this increasing problem.

At a City Council workshop held Dec. 17, Senior Planner Schuyler Warren with the Department of Community Development briefed the council about a concept called “safe lots” to keep people off the streets. This was part of a series of mini-briefings about a range of land uses not currently allowed by the city code.

“The definition of a safe lot is a parking lot that is open during the night time to provide shelter and allow people to sleep in their vehicle,” said Warren, who said “houselessness” people are now sleeping on public streets or on private lots with no sanitary service.

In 1999 the Oregon Legislature passed a law that allows permanent safe lots for religious institutions to allow up to three vehicles in their parking lots overnight. The religious institutions must provide sanitary services, hand-washing facilities and garbage disposal.

“Several jurisdictions are now doing it, including Eugene, Multnomah and Clackamas counties, and Beaverton,” Warren said. “However, the Tigard municipal code and community development code don’t allow occupancy in a vehicle… Previously we have allowed temporary residency inside religious institutions. Businesses and religious institutions can opt into this program, and hosts must sign an agreement with their guests. There is a 30-day probationary period for guests. Our recommendation is to continue to look further into this and follow up with what Beaverton is doing.”

Mayor Jason Snider asked if Beaverton and Eugene were going over the three-vehicle limit, and Warren answered in the affirmative.

Councilor Tom Anderson noted that “we have to get the code written and nailed down before allowing this.” He also asked if more would be demanded of police services.

“There would be no more demand than normal,” Warren said. “Beaverton requires that the safe lots be patrolled by private security, so police only respond to calls for service.” He added that people in the program would typically be self-selecting and desiring to work toward getting off the streets and find permanent and stable housing. Furthermore, public safety is a huge component for both those in the program and for the neighbors around the safe lots.

Councilor John Goodhouse commented that the safe-lot program “is a great step in the right direction.” Snyder added, “The religious institutions have asked to have this discussion, and they are interested in pursuing it.”

City Manager Marty Wine told the council that the reason the issue was brought to them was to develop a common understanding of this issue as it moves forward.

“I’m generally supportive and look forward to learning more,” Snyder said.

The council will be following up on this issue in the future.