PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Dozens of residents from the Montavilla neighborhood gathered for a town hall with Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler to talk about the proposed Safe Park Village near their homes.
Neighbors at the town hall had a mixed reaction to the overall plan. But one thing that everyone seemed to agree on: when it comes to decisions in their backyards, this community wants a seat at the table.
At the Eastside Church of Christ, the conversation centered on making sure their voices are heard in plans to add alternative shelters in the region.
“We have mentally ill that are unhelped, and a lot of us are sitting around waiting for our city and government to tell us how they’re going to fix it,” said Angela Todd, a Montavilla resident with PDX Real. “And I’d like to submit to you that we should be involved in those decisions, too.”
This town hall came 3 days after Multnomah County announced plans to move forward with a new Safe Park Village site off SE Stark and 82nd by the end of the year.
“As much as this is a humanitarian catastrophe for people living on the streets, it’s also having a significant impact on all of us,” Wheeler said. “Everybody here is obviously concerned about livability. We’re here on a beautiful Saturday because we love the community, and we care. Our community has been traumatized.”
The project managed by Multnomah County and the newly selected non-profit Straightaway Services will provide wrap-around services for people living in their cars as they work to get into housing.
The Safe Park Village is not being led by the city. But Wheeler took part in the town hall to hear the concerns from community members who say this latest shelter is the 3rd site planned by the county and city within 15 blocks of one another.
“Traditionally, what has happened with the city and county in these encampments that they have currently set up is that it has brought crime and problems into the area,” Todd said. “So we want to be part of making sure that people are getting meaningful help.”
Multnomah County Deputy Communications Director Denis Theriault told KOIN 6 News earlier in the week they are aware of potential backlash but they plan to include the community.
“We hear that around a lot of sites. With this site, we did a mailer half-mile around the site so folks got direct information about it. We also had two other community meetings that we’ve been to, invited by the neighbors to come,” Theriault said. “They’re offering their support.”
He believes there is a misconception about safety and services offered at the site. The gated Safe Park Village will be reservation based with 24-hour staffing, wrap-around services and nonprofit management.
“Some folks really want a chance to say ‘no’ to something and we’ve not really offered a vote on shelter sites. We don’t often let folks vote on who their neighbors are going to be,” he said. “I think folks also are imagining the worst case — they’re going to see the camp that doesn’t have any services attached to it. They’re not seeing the light community that that Straightaway Services is operating.”
The Joint Office of Homeless Services said they will continue to engage with the community as the shelter prepares to open.