Representative Pam Marsh. Courtesy of ORD2

HB 3261 doesn’t go far enough

The people, not capital, should guide public policy on houselessness

On Wednesday, March 31, the Oregon Legislature approved House Bill 3261, which dictates the limited intervention of local governments in the conversion of some properties into emergency shelters for the houseless. 

This conversion process that the bill mentions is in reference to Project Turnkey, which gives $35 million to the Oregon Department of Administrative Services specifically so that the department can give this money to the Oregon Community Foundation, a community charity organization which will in turn reallocate the money to other community organizations. It’s an unnecessary game of hot potato. 

The majority of the work being done by Project Turnkey is the slippery passing-on of capital to many, potentially greedy hands. Instead of celebrating the vague and discrete goals of Turnkey, we should be asking why Oregon can’t allocate these funds. Why must it first pass through a private organization? 

Further, while some are praising the efforts of H.B. 3261, this bill does not facilitate or stimulate the building or conversion of shelters. In the bill’s language, it only states that there will be a limit on the restriction ability of local governments in this conversion process—meaning state officials or police can’t intervene in this process, assuming the process happens. 

The sponsor of this bill, Representative Pam Marsh, said some projects have proceeded, but others have stalled despite community support. But stalls are not okay in this matter, especially now that the state cannot intervene. It should be noted that any unspent portion of the original funds for Project Turnkey, officialized in November, will be returned to the Treasury on June 30 of this year. This whole project has a short fuse that’s burning away quickly, so bureaucratic dillydallying and messing around with capital won’t help. 

What if, in present circumstances, it happens that these stalls aren’t coming from the state? What if the state was complicit in the conversion process, but Best Western put their foot down? What if Motel 6 said this whole business of shelters and “conversions” didn’t really align with their business model? What protections do Oregon’s houseless have against these massive corporations? And if a hotel corporation did deny shelter to the houseless here now, is the state now forced to turn a blind eye? 

Even if the state, in its strange heart whose arteries are clogged with lobbyists and profit motives, wanted to step in to tell that corporation to provide shelter, this bill effectively disallows that.

H.B. 3261 is not a particularly incendiary bill. It does not in itself create any hostilities. So far, Street Roots magazine has been a fan of Project Turnkey and its relative endeavors. But it also doesn’t say much when it could say more. It could assure more rights to shelter to the houseless of Oregon, but it decided minimalism was just too in vogue right now (the state seems worried Republicans will make fun of any long bill lengths). 

I suppose we should appreciate small strides like this. But I do not think this bill necessitates any celebration. We as Oregonians would do well to check in on the progress of Project Turnkey come June when those funds expire. We ought to be sure to check in with Marsh about how many projects have proceeded and how many are still stalled. 

Bureaucratic machines, rich community organizations and the hospitality industry have ample time on their hands, but that’s not true for those without shelter.