Last week began and ended with community meetings regarding the placement of alternative outdoor shelters in Montavilla. Meeting attendees expressed mixed support for the temporary housing program, and a significant number of residents voiced their disappointment with County communication regarding these shelter projects. Elected officials presented at both gatherings, but many community members’ concerns remain unanswered as the area residents wait for Multnomah County to engage in public conversations.
Organizers scheduled the two meetings soon after The Oregonian/OregonLive revealed that a 5.8-acre Volunteers of America (VOA) Oregon property could become an alternative outdoor shelter for up to 150 people experiencing houselessness. However, those early conversations did not produce a short-term lease for 8815 NE Glisan Street, and City staff will continue searching for locations outside of Montavilla. Some residents were concerned that this section of Portland was taking on an undue burden from government groups looking to address the housing emergency. At the end of December, Montavilla News broke the story that Multnomah County purchased two automotive sales lots along SE 82nd Avenue, with at least one location becoming an outdoor alternative shelter. The Joint Office of Homeless Services (JOHS) recently announced that Straightway Services will operate a Safe Park alternative shelter at 333 SE 82nd Avenue.
The Safe Park model allows Portlanders experiencing vehicular homelessness to park and utilize their vehicles for shelter. The fully managed site will provide safety, sanitation, and case management to invited residents looking to transition off the street. Shelter rules prohibit Recreational Vehicle (RV) parking and unsanctioned camping at this location. The nonprofit provider, Straightway Services, will maintain staff onsite at all hours of the day and be responsible for managing the location’s residents. The site is already fenced and awaiting the demolition of the former sales office. JOHS staff expect residents to move in later this year.
JOHS has not announced plans for the second County-owned site at 1818 SE 82nd Avenue. However, they have indicated it will also address the shelter needs of the unhoused. Montavilla already hosts a County supported alternative outdoor shelter called Beacon Village, north of NE Glisan Street. That location is widely considered a successful implementation, and the County often cites it as an example in its communications. When these two new 82nd Avenue locations open, the County will have three alternative outdoor shelters within close proximity to each other, prompting questions from neighborhood residents about site selection diversity.
Saints Peter & Paul Episcopal Church hosted a Stand for Compassion gathering on Sunday, March 12th. Multnomah County Commissioner Diane Rosenbaum and State Representative Khanh Pham spoke briefly at the event. Over a dozen community members attended the gathering that focused on engaging in supportive conversations around the Safe Park site. Most attendees of this meeting felt hopeful about the program and appreciated that some new models of shelter support were coming to the neighborhood.
The Columbia Christian School hosted a town hall meeting on Saturday afternoon in their Eastside Church of Christ chapel. This event was coordinated by Safe Rest PDX and attended by Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, who spoke for an hour. With the VOA site no longer considered for a City run temporary shelter site, his conversation focused on the program’s ambitions to end unsanctioned camping in Portland and his belief that it was the most humane solution to getting people off the street quickly. Event organizers took written questions from the audience for the Mayor and selected a few to ask. After he concluded his portion of the meeting, the two hundred attendees thinned out considerably, and the TV news crews from Koin, KGW, KATU, and KPTV packed up their equipment. The event continued for almost another hour, with speakers sharing their experience engaging the unhoused and expressing concern over JOHS’s lack of communication. Examples of the County’s short Cummings centered around missing several self-imposed deadlines for mailing information to residents near 333 SE 82nd Avenue and the lack of County attendance at their meeting. Outside of the written questions for the Mayor, organizers asked attendees to refrain from speaking. However, they collected people’s concerns through a survey and plan to share those comments at a future date.
During Mayor Wheeler’s time at the lectern, he informed the crowd that the City was not planning to have any other large 150-person camps sited in Montavilla, limiting the future alternative shelters to the three County locations. JOHS and Straightway Services are committed to holding a public conversation with the community closer to the site’s opening and signing a Good Neighbor Agreement with the local business and neighborhood associations. Until then, there will likely remain a gap in public information beyond what is available on the County’s Frequently Asked Questions webpage for the Montavilla Safe Park.
Disclosure: The Author of this article servers on the boards of Montavilla/East Tabor Business Association, 82nd Avenue Business Association, and Montavilla Neighborhood Association. Those groups will work with Multnomah County’s Joint Office of Homeless Services and Straightway Services to draft a Good Neighbor Agreement for the Safe Park Village on SE 82nd Avenue.