PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Principals of two schools near the Queer Affinity Village on 2300 Southwest Naito Parkway testified at the Multnomah County Board meeting Thursday and asked the county to grant their requests to do background checks for serious felony convictions.
A lot has changed since the schools came forward in a press conference in May, saying the city wasn’t willing to collaborate or compromise with them on their Good Neighborhood Agreement. The principals say they now have a stellar relationship with the city and Dan Ryan’s office but are now lacking that same quality and supportive partnership with the county.
After months of trying to come to a consensus, the principals say the county won’t budge on background checks for low-barrier villages within 1,000 feet of schools.
“We were told from the beginning of this process over a year ago that there would be a screening, an intake process similar to the one at St. John’s village, which has a preschool adjacent to it,” said Beven Byrnes, principal at Bridges Middle School.
“We know that schools will have questions about participants and if they are able to have a good answer, they’ll be able to welcome them with open arms and do things and build community and have community gardens that we’re hoping to do, a winter clothing drive, all the wonderful things to make people feel a part of a community when they’ve been so ostracized in the past,” added Bodo Heiliger from International School of Portland.
Both Bridges Middle School and International School of Portland are about 100 feet away from the village.
Leaders at the Joint Office of Homeless Services said they’re prioritizing low-barrier shelters.
Low-barrier shelters ensure immediate access by lowering or eliminating barriers such as sobriety standards, pet restrictions, restrictions based on identification, income, background checks, and/or requirements for participation in programming, according to the Oregon Statewide Shelter Study.
Multnomah County leaders also say these same background checks the principals are asking for often don’t apply when getting a house or an apartment near schools.
“A background check is a barrier that some folks who need services wouldn’t be able to access shelter then,” said Denis Theriault from JOHS. “The folks in shelter get some extra scrutiny. We’ve heard this and we’ve not gone forward with that background check.”
Both schools say they are supportive of this village and they want to be a part of the solution, and they think minimal screening near schools can make a win-win situation for the participants and the surrounding community.
“We want them to be a success and we think if it’s done in the right way with true community collaboration, that it can and should be a model for the rest of the city, state and nation,” Byrnes said.
Commissioner Ryan thinks it’s a reasonable request given the proximity to the school.
“We understand that the decision about screening stands with Multnomah County since they manage the contract with shelter operators,” said Margaux Weeke, with Dan Ryan’s Office.
Commissioner Sharon Meieran stood with the schools saying:
“I support narrowly tailored background checks for sex offenses and serious felonies for all homeless shelters located within 1,000 feet of schools. When Considering potential conflicts involving issues of basic safety, fundamental privacy and potential traumatic impact, we need to carefully balance the risks and impacts using the utmost scrutiny. In this instance, I believe there is the potential to avoid serious harm to children by implementing a narrow, tailored, minimally intrusive intervention. And if implemented appropriately, any potential emotional harm to people impacted by the background checks themselves could be completely avoided.”
Commissioner Jessica Vega Peterson said:
I’m committed to working with the community when shelters are sited anywhere in Multnomah County, as I did with the Laurelwood Shelter. Our success in siting shelters is dependent on having local businesses, schools, organizations, and neighbors, both house and unhoused, feel informed and partnered in the process. There needs to be special consideration when schools or other sensitive areas are near to shelter. I am supportive of using personal attestations in those cases and have asked the JOHS to get more information about their use.