PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Despite recent pushback from local community stakeholders, the Southwest Naito Queer Affinity Village opened its doors on Friday. 

The 35-pod temporary outdoor shelter welcomed nearly 20 homeless residents Friday afternoon from the former camp off Southeast Water Avenue. 

Backed by commissioner Dan Ryan’s office, the low-barrier shelter offers LQBTQIA+ self-identifying villagers private sleeping quarters, laundry, flushing bathrooms, a shared kitchenette, and optional services.

Community Engagement Coordinator for the Safe Rest Village Initiative, Jake Dornblaser told KOIN 6 News the new location will grant residents the privacy and security they need as they work to transition into more permanent housing. 

“It’s a safe and secure place where people can leave their stuff behind,” Dornblaser said. “It’s open 24 hours to them, so it gives them a sense of self and a sense of space.”

The site opened just a week after stakeholders publicly withdrew support for the shelter amid safety concerns.

On May 6, nearby schools and community members held a press conference to voice their frustration with leadership, calling for a multi-stakeholder Safe Rest Village advisory board, a 1,000-foot drug-free monitored safety zone around the shelter – and background checks for incoming villagers.

“The Safe Rest Village model does not have background checks,” Dornblaser confirmed. “Part of our process is screening people into services instead of screening them out.”

However, local school leaders told KOIN 6 News they believe the safety of students and neighbors near the site needs to be a higher priority.

“The safety and security of our students is primary,” said Bodo Heiliger, Head of the International School of Portland. As a school leader my job is to make sure that our kids are learning and that they are safe.”

Heiliger told KOIN 6 News, until just recently he and other stakeholders felt unheard by Commissioner Ryan’s Office, citing what he calls a lack of communication, collaboration, and transparency surrounding background checks and their other safety concerns from leadership. 

While Village Coordinators acknowledged that not all parties have seen eye-to eye on security measures, Dornblaser said a code of conduct is in place for the incoming residents, and those who pose a threat to the safety of the community will be asked to leave. 

Despite this, he confirmed background checks are not a part of the village’s current plan. 

“That doesn’t mean they aren’t held to expectations in the space,” Dornblaser explained. “It is on the shelter operator, the joint office, and the city to ensure that the space is safe –not only for the people in the village but also for the community members outside.” 

Since last Friday, representatives with the Joint Office of Homeless Services and Commissioner Ryan have sat down with stakeholders and committed to developing a safety plan and an advisory board to help address their concern. 

Heiliger told KOIN 6 News he remains “cautiously optimistic,” but is glad the Commissioner and his Southwest Naito Stakeholder partners are back at the table. 

“That’s a big step. Actually hearing us, hearing our concerns, and knowing that we want to work together to move this forward,” Heiliger stated. “Because we don’t want to reject it. We don’t want to rescind our support of the Village because we see opportunity there.”

Commissioner Ryan’s Office issued the following statement on the sites grand opening: 

“Today, the builders—the Safe Rest Villages team, and the providers—All Good Northwest, welcomed Participants at the SW Naito Queer Affinity Village! We are proud of this successful transition, and we are thrilled to work with every Participant to build their resilience and take their next step on the pathway from streets to stability.

We ask that everyone take a breath and allow the Villagers space to move into their new community with peace.

Commissioner Ryan is grateful for the ongoing dialogue with the 2300 SW Naito Stakeholder Group—specifically the school communities—and he is committed to ensuring safety and stability for everyone in the SW Naito neighborhood.”