PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — On Wednesday, those leading Portland’s Safe Rest Villages presented an annual report to the city council, providing an update on the progress of the program that has been operating for nearly two years.
Championed by Commissioner Dan Ryan, the city has built seven Safe Rest Villages throughout Portland.
“This report includes seven sites, which is one more site than the promised six. These sites provide services, stability, build resilience, and help people get into housing,” Ryan said.
Of the five sites that opened between July 2022 and June 2023, the report shows 211 sleeping units were provided, serving 345 people, with many belonging to historically underserved communities and those disproportionately affected by homelessness.
As 33% of residents were chronically homeless, 57% identified as having a disability and 57% reported being non-white or multiracial.
For the past two years, Chariti Montez, the houselessness strategies manager, has led the Safe Rest Village Program. Having experienced life on the streets herself, Montez says she believes the program has been successful because it does things differently.
“I am a person with lived experience of houselessness. And last year, my aunt died on the streets in Eugene on the very same day that we opened the Menlo Park Safe Rest Village in East Portland,” she said. “We are actually seeing people getting stable, getting connected to services and actually exiting the safe rest villages and exiting into housing.”
According to the report, of the 345 people served, 143 exited Safe Rest Villages, with 70 of those people moving to temporary or permanent housing.
While those figures are promising, Montez said some remaining participants went to other shelters or treatment programs, while others went to jail or returned to the streets.
“Just under 15% did go back to the streets when they left a Safe Rest Village. And that sounds like a lot but that’s actually comparable,” she said.
“In the future, we’re working to establish a retention program because as most of you probably know we can get folks housed but oftentimes without the supportive services we’ll see those folks back out on the street,” added Andy Goebel, the executive director of All Good Northwest.
Both Safe Rest Village program operators and council members recognized retention as a primary area of improvement going forward.
Although 70 people successfully housed may sound like a small drop in the bucket when looking at the thousands of people living on Portland’s streets, with some of those residents now stable and even giving back to the program, there’s hope that one small drop can cause a ripple effect.
“I do want to thank the neighbors, those who have come to support the Safe Rest Villages and those who are skeptical about the Safe Rest Villages. We want to thank you for allowing us to do this in your community because it’s for the betterment of the entirety of the community. And the good news is it’s working,” said Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler.
During Wednesday’s session, both Wheeler and Commissioner Rene Gonzalez pointed out that this three-year program is primarily funded through one-time ARPA money, which means that for these Safe Rest Villages to continue, the city will need to work with the county and state to secure more permanent funding.