Vehicle Camping at Religious Institutions

Benton County Vehicle Camping at Religious Institutions.  Code Chapter 40.

Click here for the Benton County Vehicle Camping Registration Form
Click here for Benton County Resource Manual for Vehicle Camping

Click here for Vehicle Camping at a Religious Institution Ordinance 2020-0295 (Emergency)

This page will be updated as new information becomes available.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Vehicle Camping on Religious Institution Property Code?

On May 5, 2020, the Benton County Board of Commissioners adopted Benton County Code Chapter 40, which allows religious institutions in unincorporated areas (outside city limits) of Benton County to host up to three vehicles for overnight camping on their property for individuals who lack permanent shelter.

Why is this a County Code instead of a land use action?

Oregon Revised Statutes (ORS) 203.082 provides a means, separate from land use laws, for jurisdictions to enable vehicle camping at religious institutions. In essence, the vehicle camping is allowed as an accessory use to an established religious institution.

What does the Vehicle Camping code allow?

The code allows for religious institutions in unincorporated areas (outside city limits) of Benton County to host no more than three vehicles for vehicle camping at the registered site at any one time, subject to certain standards and restrictions.

What is considered a “vehicle”?

A “vehicle” includes a licensed and operable automobile, camper, travel trailer or recreational vehicle. A “vehicle” also includes a rigid-walled, readily transportable temporary sleeping unit exempt from building code and consistent with minimum guidelines issues by the Benton County Community Development Director. The hosting religious institution is responsible for ensuring vehicles meet and adhere to the minimum guidelines.

What is the purpose of the Vehicle Camping code?

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused social service disruptions that have left all vulnerable populations in the community, including people experiencing homelessness, at greater risk to a variety of health and welfare impacts.

There is an immediate need for individuals to have access to stable locations at which to shelter in place, in order to comply with Oregon Governor Brown’s Executive Order No. 20-12 directing Oregonians to stay at home and participate in physical distancing.

There are members of rural communities that have vehicles as their primary shelter and no fixed place at which to safely and legally park. Additionally, community organizations have constructed temporary transportable sleeping units (“micro-shelters”) which are similar to vehicles in that they can be relocated and are not permanent installations but which provide many benefits when compared to a standard vehicle in use as a sleeping unit.

Why was an emergency, limited-term Vehicle Camping code adopted instead of a permanent code?

The need for swift action in the face of the COVID-19 crisis combined with the challenges that the pandemic creates for public engagement necessitate Benton County adopting a limited-term ordinance with a commitment to a robust public engagement process prior to adopting any permanent ordinance authorizing vehicle camping at religious institutions.

The County has adopted an emergency ordinance, which will be in effect for 60 days.  The County is in the process of adopting an intermediate ordinance, which would take effect upon expiration of the emergency ordinance and would expire December 31, 2021. The County intends to vet a permanent ordinance through a robust public engagement process and consider its possible adoption, prior to expiration of the intermediate ordinance.

Why does the Vehicle Camping code only apply to unincorporated areas of Benton County?

The Vehicle Camping code applies to religious institutions in unincorporated areas (outside city limits) of Benton County as this is the area Benton County has jurisdiction over. Incorporated cities would need to adopt similar codes to enable religious institutions within their jurisdictions to offer vehicle camping.

Why is vehicle camping allowed on religious institutions? What other institutions were considered?

Pursuant to Oregon Revised Statutes (ORS) 203.082, Benton County may enact an ordinance authorizing vehicle camping specifically and only at religious institutions. The ORS does not include other institutions.

Did Benton County consider the impact of dispersing vulnerable people experiencing homelessness away from social services?

The intention of the emergency Vehicle Camping code is to provide one additional tool for rural communities to provide a safe and stable means to shelter in place during the COVID-19 pandemic. There are members of rural communities that have vehicles as their primary shelter and no fixed place at which to safely and legally park.

How does a religious institution become a host for vehicle camping?

Religious institutions interested in hosting vehicle camping should carefully consider whether hosting vehicle camping is appropriate for their organization and the property, and whether they have the necessary resources to successfully host individuals or families in a vehicle camping environment.

The organization, supervision, and maintenance of a vehicle camping location is solely the responsibility of the religious institution, and not Benton County. Religious institutions deciding to host vehicle camping do so at their own risk and expense.

To host vehicle camping, Benton County is requiring that the religious institutions register their location with Community Development and comply with specific standards outlined in the code.

What standards do religious institution hosting vehicle campers need to follow?

To host vehicle camping, the County is requiring that the religious institutions register their location with the County and comply with the standards outlined below:

  • No more than three vehicles for vehicle camping is allowed at the registered site at any one time. Vehicle also includes a rigid-walled, readily transportable temporary sleeping unit exempt from building code and consistent with minimum guidelines issued by the Community Development Director. A church, synagogue or other religious institution shall be responsible for ensuring vehicles meet and adhere to the minimum guidelines.
  • The religious institution shall provide campers with access to onsite sanitary facilities, including at minimum toilet, hand washing and trash disposal facilities.
  • The camping occurs on the same property as the religious institution’s facility or an adjacent property that the religious institution owns or leases and has land use approval for religious institutional uses. In the case of leased land, the church shall provide the County with written authorization from the property owner to establish vehicle camping.
  • No payment of fee, rent, or other monetary charge shall be required of campers. This provision does not prevent the religious institution from accepting donations.
  • Vehicles and all associated outside facilities (such as toilet, trash disposal, storage unit) shall be located at least 12 feet from all property lines, road right-of-way or access easements, and each vehicle shall be located at least 12 feet from other vehicles and from associated outside facilities.
  • All items and materials must be stored in vehicles or in separate storage unit, other than items designed and intended for outdoor use which shall be screened from adjacent properties and public rights-of-way

Who will let neighbors know if a religious institution becomes a host for vehicle camping?

Benton County staff are preparing a support manual with recommendations from various agencies to insure that religious institutions are aware and prepared to host individuals on their property. This manual recommends that religious institutions communicate with their neighbors before and during the hosting of people on their property. Benton County will not be notifying neighbors.

What do I do if I have a concern about the vehicle camping that is occurring at a religious institution in my neighborhood?

The Code Compliance program of the Benton County Community Development Department can provide emergency contact information for the host institution, which will typically be the most direct and effective way to have a concern addressed. In cases where that is ineffective and if a nuisance or threat to public health, safety or welfare exists, Benton County  can take action pursuant to Benton County Code Chapter 21 – Nuisance Abatement.

Who funds vehicle camping on religious institution property?

Vehicle camping at religious institutions is not funded or sponsored by Benton County. All costs associated with hosting vehicle camping are the responsibility of the property owner. These costs may include providing toilet facilities, trash receptacles, supervision of the guests, and clean-up of the area.

The County may only explain the minimum requirements for a registered vehicle camping location, and cannot offer any legal advice for property owners interested in hosting vehicle camping, and strongly recommends that anyone interested in hosting vehicle camping undertake their own research on the subject, and obtain the advice of their own attorney before deciding to host vehicle camping.