Portland’s Safe Rest Village team says a site plan has been submitted to the city for permitting at the armory near Multnomah Village. Materials and site improvements are still being confirmed, but staff in Commissioner Dan Ryan’s office say the goal is to get the 40-pod outdoor homeless shelter up and running in May.
“It is likely to be our first one opened,” Bryan Aptekar, a communications liaison with the Safe Rest Village team, said Wednesday, April 13. Aptekar noted the relocation of the Queer Affinity Village to Southwest Naito Parkway is next on track.
Despite the city’s plans, a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) spokesperson confirmed the agency hasn’t made a determination yet on whether the managed transitional housing village complies with an existing deed restriction for the property. The agency didn’t provide a timeline for when that review might be completed, but local agencies are moving ahead.
All Good Northwest, a new startup nonprofit organization, has been tapped by Multnomah County to manage the Safe Rest Village slated to go in the armory’s parking lot.
The organization will replace Helping Hands Reentry Outreach Centers, the org that backed out of the project, citing concerns about a lack of screening and qualifications for prospective village residents.
Many neighborhood residents have similar concerns about how the outdoor village will be managed and its impacts to the surrounding neighborhood.
Andy Goebel, executive director of All Good Northwest, told neighborhood residents that the new Safe Rest Village will have round-the-clock staffing and a 24-hour phone line.
“We want to afford everyone the opportunity to be served,” Goebel said during an April 12 Multnomah Neighborhood Association meeting. Goebel said across the city, opposition to homeless shelters usually stems from “fear of the blue tarp,” a common sight among Portland’s myriad unsanctioned homeless camps.
The villages — contained lots with pod structures akin to tiny homes — are part of the city’s Streets to Stability plan. Sites will offer showers, bathrooms, a cooking space and social services to give residents stability with the goal of finding permanent housing.
Goebel said he’s gleaned insight from other shelter managers and learned what works and what doesn’t. He said the Sears site will include case managers, peer support and housing navigation specialists.
While All Good Northwest is still in its infancy, having been established just six months ago, the group has been managing three emergency shelters in Portland, including the Queer Affinity Village. Prior to taking the helm at All Good Northwest, Goebel worked for Do Good Multnomah, which manages the Clackamas County Veterans Village and the St. Johns Village.
“We’ve successfully housed 20 people out of those sites,” Goebel said.
Addressing concerns from residents and neighbors of the Sears Armory, Goebel said drugs and alcohol won’t be allowed, but cautioned there’s no way to guarantee the sobriety of residents, even in large, indoor congregate shelter settings. If village residents run afoul of expectations and rules for the village, they may be connected with external services and asked to leave.
“The no. 1 rule we have in all our shelter projects is to be a good neighbor,” Goebel said. “What we don’t want to do is say, ‘there’s the door, see you later.’ That’s not humane, that’s not trauma informed.”
Each Safe Rest Village is expected to cost about $1.5 million to operate annually, according to rough cost estimates from the city. That includes case managers, wraparound services and the guarantee of at least one free meal a day to residents. Construction and infrastructure is expected to range from $350,000 to $500,000. The SRV program is currently being budgeted for three years.
Aptekar, the city staffer, noted federal American Rescue Plan Act dollars will be used for the first year of the Safe Rest program, and said budgets for each site are still being shored up at the city level. Each location’s costs will vary, depending on number of units and site preparation needed.
“These are managed shelters with services and that’s what we’re paying for,” Aptekar said.
Entry to the Safe Rest sites will be by referral only, from first responders, park rangers, Portland Street Response, and other social service workers, according to city plans. Residents must be 18 or older.
Jake Dornblaser, a community outreach specialist in Commissioner Ryan’s office, said the Safe Rest Villages are just one part of a larger plan to bring 1,000 more shelter beds online by the end of the year.
Estimates of Portland’s unhoused population vary greatly. A 2015 point-in-time count showed 3,800 people were sleeping on city streets, in shelters or temporary housing. In 2019, Portland State University released a study estimating the number of people in the Portland Metro region without stable housing to be closer to 38,000.