PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Just as the homeless issues in Old Town in Portland were seeming to catch momentum, the outdoor village homeless shelter in the neighborhood is closing.
The village was operated by All Good Northwest, an organization dedicated to providing ‘wrap-around’ services to transition people from homelessness to permanent housing. But an increase in violence, specifically around guns, became too much for the organization’s staff to bear.
“We had shootings in very close proximity to the village in Old Town and we even had staff who were the first responders at a shooting. It just became a dangerous and untenable situation,” Andy Goebel said, the executive director of All Good.
Goebel says it was traumatic to his staff who he points out are well trained to work in shelters and situations involving people experiencing mental health problems. Some of his staff even reported symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.
“That’s not the work that we’re contracted to do in that space. Our job is to house people and to take care of their needs on the ground,” he said.
The village will close at the end of June, and the Joint Office of Housing Services is working to find other settings for the 40 people who live there.
It comes as the Old Town Community Association was seeing progress towards its goal of creating a safer environment in the area. During the association’s monthly meeting on Wednesday, the group reported the count of tents in the neighborhood far exceeded 300 during the winter. A count in May found less than 90 tents.
The chair of the OTCA, Jessie Burke, who also owns the Society Hotel in Old Town, says reducing the number of tents isn’t the goal—safety is.
“I wasn’t surprised. I think it’s a bummer to lose a good neighbor like All Good, but I know why. It’s not safe. It’s not, it’s traumatizing for the staff and people living there.” Burke said. “If the goal is to help people heal and recover and get to a more stable life, it’s not the place to do it.”
Denis Theriault, the deputy communications director for Multnomah County who handles communications for the JOHS, says there are some options in Old Town, like a few day shelters and a behavioral health resources center set to open in the fall.
“We’re talking about this village being affected by its community, its surrounding environment, not contributing to it, but suffering from what’s been going on around it and it’s not something we’re seeing in these other locations.”
While not in Old Town at this time, JOHS and All Good Northwest are working together on other types of shelter options across the city.
In what could be the first Safe Rest Village to open, All Good will operate the Multnomah Village Safe Rest site and currently operating a shelter with 120 shelter beds on Market Street. That shelter and others that opened during the pandemic are preparing to add beds as pandemic restrictions ease which could add 400 beds to the metro area’s shelter capacity.
Theriault says the shelter capacity has doubled since the pandemic and increased more than four times since the emergency declaration around homelessness was first declared in 2015.
While some beds are being added, the last data showed more than 1,600 adult shelter beds, in addition to the domestic violence victim and youth shelter bed count.
Theriault says, should Mayor Ted Wheeler’s proposed budget pass with the current funding for homeless services, the money will be in place for an additional 800 or so beds to be added in the next year.
While not all those beds have a place to go just yet, just the finances to support them, Goebel says his organization is ready to step up and has been welcomed by the Multnomah Village neighborhood.
“They’re rallying behind us,” Goebel said, “[They’re] offering support and donations and really wanting to see this resource in their neighborhood because they recognize the crisis in their community.”