Portland homeless campers reach deal with city for new site

PORTLAND — The battle over a half-acre lot in downtown Portland ended in a deal between the city and the homeless encampment occupying the space. But the future of the 60-some people who make the camp their home isn't certain yet.

City Commissioner Amanda Fritz announced the deal Monday, ending a protracted dispute between the camp — whose residents called it a rest area — and the city, which said it was a campground and therefore violating city law.

Fines piled up and went unpaid. The camp sued the city in state court, saying it had misinterpreted its own rules.

Now, Fritz and camp organizers are pitching a new location as the future home of the camp, a spot under a bridge in northwest Portland owned by the city development commission that's serving as a parking lot for low-income housing.

Though Fritz and camp organizers declared victory on Monday, the move must still win approval for the various zoning and utility requirements the new site will allow.

The agreement at the new site will last a year, subject to renewal. Fritz said she has the support of Mayor Charlie Hales and heard no objections to the plan from other commissioners.

The encampment "has provided shelter and other services for an average of 60 people per night who otherwise would have been forced to sleep on the streets," organizer Ibrahim Mubarak said in a news release. "This agreement shows that the city is acknowledging the problem and starting to work with us instead of against us."

The property owner, Michael Wright, once owned an adult bookstore on the lot, but the city shuttered it and he razed the building. He tried to use the land as a food-cart pod, but the city shut that down, too.

Wright said in an October 2011 televised interview he would allow anyone to occupy the lot. Mubarak saw the segment and took him up on the offer days later.

The encampment, named by its residents "Right 2 Dream Too," sprung up in mid-October 2011, just days after the Occupy Portland protest put down roots across town. In tents and under tarps, between 50 and 60 people took shelter from the elements, cooked and showered on the half-acre lot.

But the city said the campground couldn't continue to exist. Officials said inspectors determined it was a campground and had to register as one.

The city soon began to issue code violations to the encampment, which went unpaid.

The agreement announced Monday vacates the fines and assigns the encampment a permanent spot under the Broadway Bridge, near train, bus and light-rail stations.

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