PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler has a plan to build six mass-sanctioned homeless campsites across the city.
In early March, the mayor announced the first proposed site on Southeast Gideon Street near Powell Boulevard in the Brooklyn Neighborhood and said the site will be run by Urban Alchemy — a California-based non-profit that runs shelters in San Fransico and Los Angeles, California and in Austin, Texas.
“This really is a new intervention that has been a little controversial. People have kind of been thinking about it, testing it out, conversing about it. But we’ve been able to operate Safe Sleeps over the last year-and-a-half,” said Urban Alchemy Chief of Governmental and Community Affairs Kirkpatrick Tyler.
During the Gideon Street site announcement, Mayor Wheeler said he joined commissioners Carmen Rubio, Dan Ryan and county staff on trips to San Fransico to review Urban Alchemy-managed sites before the group was slated to run the proposed Portland site.
“Just at the core of who we are as an organization, when we open interim housing sites, we see the neighborhood as an extension of the Safe Sleep community,” Tyler said — noting the non-profit will work with area residents and businesses to hear their concerns on the shelter initiative.
“Our teams actually go out on the ground and talk to residents. Not just to say, ‘Oh, hey, there’s a Safe Sleep coming.’ But to hear about the type of community they’d like to live in, to hear about things that would make these sights appealing and encourage people to engage and consider this a safe place to stay,” Tyler explained.
Tyler said Urban Alchemy will work with existing Portland outreach teams and caseworkers and will look at what housing options and what resources are needed for those seeking shelter.
“Our first step is to create a safe space,” Tyler said. “We are only as good as the housing resources available. Oftentimes, the onus is placed on service providers to magically create housing placements that just don’t exist.”
Tyler claims they’ve been “really great” at getting residents to transition from Safe Sleeps and other interim housing into permanent housing — and making sure residents have the support they need to stay there.
He says the organization will also work with those seeking shelter to determine the type of housing and supports they need.
“We’ve gotten really great at placing people, but more importantly, our work has led to some sustainable housing placements, and so we’re looking forward to having that same success in Portland.”
Urban Alchemy says it recruits formerly incarcerated long-term offenders to work as outreach workers.
Tyler explained they offer a one-week classroom training for workers to go over trauma-informed care, emotional intelligence, de-escalation, overdose reversal, substance abuse and how to work with minority groups such as women or LGBTQ communities. Tyler says they also work with the caseworkers in the field for several months.
“We recruit from the prison system for men and women who have 10 years or more sentence,” Tyler explained. ” We believe they have a transferable skillset that they can bring to the work of serving our most vulnerable neighbors.”