PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – To cut through the polarizing opinions of affordable housing and the homeless crisis, a local non-profit hosted an “eat and greet” event Friday afternoon for neighbors living in and out of a local Safe Rest Village.
Cultivate Initiatives operates the Menlo Park Safe Rest Village located in Southeast Portland, and the gathering comes six months after the village first opened its doors.
“It feels really good to just have a day where it’s not about, ‘Should the village be, or should it not be here,’ and not about politics, but about just coming together and enjoying music and sharing a meal together,” said Community Engagement and Action Director Matthew McCarl.
Outside his role with the organization, McCarl said he lives in this community and hopes the event provides a safe space for people to come together and embrace each other as neighbors – whether they’re housed or unhoused.
Despite some pushback, McCarl says the site has largely been a success.
“Anytime you do something difficult and daring that’s going to happen,” he said. “But it’s a full village. We’ve got 49 people living there. We’ve had people move into permanent housing, some people getting jobs, people getting just in the community and feeling a sense of contribution again.”
Michelle, a resident of the Menlo Park Safe Rest Village, said she recently became homeless after leaving a rehabilitation center and has benefited from the support of the site.
“The thought of, ‘Oh I’m not going to be on the streets and have to watch my back or make sure my stuff’s okay,’ you know. ‘Sleep all my belongings, so they don’t get stolen,’” she said. “They’ve got a safe place to come to.”
Although Michelle just arrived at the site on May 5, she says she’s already looking to transition into affordable housing.
“I applied for the Buri building off of Glisan yesterday, and I go for intake Tuesday,” she said. “So I’m hoping to get out of here soon.”
Michelle and other villagers told KOIN 6 the “eat and greet” – complete with food, live music, games and more – has provided a sense of normalcy and belonging.
McCarl says the organizers hope more events like this can begin to break down stigmas and build up a sense of community for all neighbors.
“We believe that a group of people gathering together over food, a photo booth, funny games and whatnot….that is an intervention for safety, and for crime, and for homelessness,” he said.