City, state leaders discuss ‘managed villages’ for Portland homeless

Civic Affairs

State, local leaders led the online discussion

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Leaders across Oregon agree that when it comes to solving the homelessness crisis in the Portland area, urgency is key.

Portland City Commissioner Dan Ryan joined county commissioners and state lawmakers for an online town hall meeting on Thursday evening to discuss the city’s severe homelessness problem. Ryan, who oversees the Housing Bureau and Joint Office of Homeless Services, said one of his own brothers struggled with addiction and mental challenges.

“We couldn’t house him because of where he was at currently in his life,” he explained. Ryan said his brother died on the streets about eight years ago. He believes that “we have to meet people where they are” and is working with Multnomah County to create so-called “safe rest villages.”

“I’ve requested and hope to receive full support for $20 million from the American Rescue Plan to create these managed villages on land made available by Shelter to Housing Continuum code changes,” said Ryan.

Following the announcement the City of Portland would increase its removal of unsanctioned urban campsites in the city, with a focus on removing those that pose significant public health and safety risks among other criteria, Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty is now saying she is keeping a watchful eye to make sure the city doesn’t engage in inappropriately aggressive sweeps outside the parameters of the new protocols.

When the measure was first announced last week, it came with a joint statement from Mayor Ted Wheeler and the other commissioners, including Hardesty, saying the new protocols “reprioritize public health and safety among houseless Portlanders and aim to improve sanitary conditions until we have additional shelter beds and housing available.”

On the county level, Multnomah County Commissioner Sharon Meieran said she’s proposed creating a network of outdoor shelter sites outfitted with dry, insulated sleeping structures. The sites would feature hygiene services including toilets, safe heating and power and garbage and recycling collection.

“Ideally, there would be a range of sizes of sites where people could sleep safely, from small ones — 8 to 10 folks to safe parking sites — to larger, more structured village-type models,” said Meieran.

State Representative Lisa Reynolds who represents parts of downtown Portland and Old Town said the homeless crisis hits close to home.

“I have a mentally ill brother who has mostly been housed but there have been periods of time when he has been he has been unhoused,” she said.

Reynolds spoke about state efforts to tackle the crisis, including putting a state moratorium on evictions in an effort to keep people off the streets and funneling “hundreds of millions of dollars in rent support to tenants and rent reimbursements for landlords.” She also discussed funding a hotel program.

“The state also started a $65 million program so that different organizations could purchase hotels to serve as I think kind of medium-term shelters which was especially important during COVID,” said Reynolds. She added that the state is also working to open up navigation centers to connect families with health care and permanent housing and lawmakers are looking to slightly expand funding for mobile crisis units.

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