PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The rollout of the Safe Rest Village locations has not been smooth for the City of Portland. Less than a week after 3 sites were announced, one of them was scrapped after residents pointed out the site at SE 45th and Harney is in a flood zone.
City officials said they had reviewed other criteria, but not that one.
But the move to install Safe Rest Villages continues. There are visible pieces in Portland of what Safe Rest Villages will be like, just not all in one package yet.
There will be plumbed bathrooms, laundry spaces and electricity. A manager will be there to keep the residents and surrounding community safe. The site may not have tiny houses, but instead simpler prefabricated pods similar to other outdoor shelter sites in Portland.
But neighbors who spoke with KOIN 6 News are worried these sites will attract more homeless to their neighborhoods looking for resources.
Denis Theriault with the Joint Office of Homeless Services told KOIN 6 News that someone must be referred from a service provider or emergency responder in order to get a bed at a Safe Rest Village.
“So when you get a bed it’s yours until you move on to something else. And so, you know, you can’t just wait for someone to leave and then hope that you get a bed that next night,” Theriault said. “Folks are onsite 24/7 staying there, so folks know that they don’t, they know not to line up outside because they know that they’re not going to get a bed that way.”
The Joint Office of Homeless Services said they are still deciding who the service providers will be for the Safe Rest Villages. There’s no timeline for that decision.
But once that happens, they say they will engage with residents about going into a “good neighborhood agreement” to spell the relationship between neighbors and the folks in the villages and the staff that helps run them.
“We understand that citing has to be done, but do it in a way that is holistic that benefits – not just people who need the shelter – but the entire community,” said Arlene Kimura, the president of the Hazelwood Neighborhood Association.
Kimura has been a leader in her community for more than 2 decades. She’s concerned about the proposed safe rest village site at SE 122nd and Burnside, pointing to gun violence, heavy traffic, and car fumes.
Kimura contacted Commissioner Dan Ryan’s office in mid-September before the announcement, requesting to have a meeting to discuss the proposed safe rest village sites. She reached out again this week requesting a meeting. Nothing has come of it.
“There is is going to be resistance,” Kimura said. “I think working through that resistance is the better way to do it than the city saying – ‘I know better, so I’m going to do it.'”
“People in Kenton feel pride in the Kenton’s Women’s Village, which they helped create,” said Richard Birkel, the executive director of Catholic Charities of Oregon.
As a service provider in Portland, Birkel has experience running Kenton’s Women’s Village. He’s critical of how the city handled announcing the new safe rest village sites.
“I think the city missed an opportunity,” Birkel said. “They can still go back – to say look, we’re looking for partners – we have the land, but we need your ideas about how to build and manage these villages.”
He said including neighborhood input and local volunteers is the key to success.
“But plopping in what feels like a cookie-cutter solution to a city-wide problem doesn’t feel engaged, it doesn’t feel like this is something I’m going to own – it feels very adversarial,” Birkel said.
He suggests the city and county get the neighborhoods involved with deciding who the service providers will be, the barriers to entry for residents, and rules at the sites as soon as possible.