Tag: Multnomah County

Community Meetings on Alternative Shelters

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.

Mayor Ted Wheeler speaking at the March 18th, 2023, town hall

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 KoinKGWKATU, 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.

County Alternative Shelters Coming to SE 82nd Ave

In the second half of 2022, Multnomah County purchased two automotive sales lots in Montavilla along SE 82nd Avenue. At least one location will become an outdoor alternative shelter serving houseless Portlanders next year. The Joint Office of Homeless Services (JOHS) is currently selecting a service provider to offer continuous on-site support for the residents. County staff anticipates a summer 2023 opening for the first location near SE Stark Street. The second location near Harrison Park is in an early pre-planning phase and currently leased to a recreational vehicle (RV) sales company.

In August 2022, Multnomah County purchased the former RV sales lot at 333 SE 82nd Avenue and posted a Notice of Funding Availability (NOFA) on November 2nd. In response to the NOFA, organizations interested in managing the shelter submitted applications ahead of the November 21st deadline, and the County is actively reviewing those proposals. JOHS staff have yet to determine the type of alternative outdoor shelter planned for 333 SE 82nd Avenue. The site could support either a safe park site for non-RV passenger vehicles or a village-style shelter with small freestanding shed-style Pallet shelters

Residents are pre-selected for both types of alternative shelters. These sites will not support drop-in services, and site operators will discourage unsanctioned camping around the property. County staff point to another JOHS-funded shelter in the neighborhood as an example of what they intend to create at this site. Beacon Village opened its 10-pod village to residents earlier this year near NE Glisan Street and has successfully housed a small group of formerly unhoused people within a church parking lot.

1818 SE 82nd Avenue

The second County-owned site is located less than a mile south of 333 SE 82nd Avenue at 1818 SE 82nd Avenue. The corner lot has access to SE Mill Street and is a block away from Harrison Park. Currently, the County is leasing the property back to its former owner. Recently acquired in December 2022, JOHS has yet to determine this site’s ultimate use, and Multnomah County staff cannot say when planning for this site will begin.

Outdoor alternative shelters are most commonly associated with a City lead collaboration between Portland and JOHS known as Safe Rest Villages. However, both County-owned sites are not being developed as part of that program. Jenka Soderberg, the program communications coordinator for JOHS, explained the primary difference between the two programs. “The Safe Rest Villages program was created apart from existing shelter efforts, with the City funding construction, though it does work with the Joint Office around contracting and other support.” These sites on SE 82nd Avenue will join the County’s existing alternative shelter program that began five years ago. “The Joint Office already funds and operates other alternative shelter sites and has done so since the Kenton Women’s Village first opened in 2017. Other shelters in that category include St. Johns Village, Beacon Village PDX, and WeShine’s Parkrose Village.” Said Soderberg.

The vacant half-block property near historic downtown Montavilla received new black chain-link fencing around its perimeter this December, supplanting the construction fencing that has protected the site since its sale. Over the next few months, construction crews will upgrade facilities at the site, creating resident amenities that include personal property storage, trash service, showers, restrooms, laundry, kitchen space, and social services. 

Image of 333 SE 82nd Avenue from Portland Maps

The County considers 333 SE 82nd Avenue temporary accommodations. With people staying only as long as it takes to transition into permanent housing or permanent supportive housing programs. However, according to Soderberg, the site will remain a temporary shelter location for the foreseeable future. “The plan is to operate a long-term shelter at the site, but like all programs, budgets must be approved by the County Board and City Council annually, and we would always want to ensure we’re able to evaluate the success of the program.”

During the first half of 2023, program staff will coordinate meetings, working with neighbors and area businesses to create a Good Neighbor Agreement. Through alternative shelters like the ones proposed for Montavilla, the County intends to initiate positive changes for villagers and neighbors currently experiencing unsanctioned camping. By creating a safe sleeping space for people experiencing unsheltered homelessness, program managers hope to build an environment that allows villagers to be part of the surrounding neighborhood. Employees will professionally manage the site at all hours of every day. People working with residents will provide support to address basic needs, including hygiene services, case management, and housing navigation. Residents will receive access to treatment for unmet behavioral health needs.

Neighbors within a half-mile radius of the site should receive a postcard in the mail informing them about this planned site use. JOHS will update the community when they decide on a program model and contract with a shelter operator. The village could open and accept participants as soon as workers complete construction. Still, that timeline depends on the shelter style selection and how soon site management can prepare staff. JOHS will provide updates to community organizations as those milestones come closer.

333 SE 82nd Avenue

Disclosure: The author of this article serves on the boards of the Montavilla/East Tabor Business Association, 82nd Avenue Business Association, and Montavilla Neighborhood Association. During that work, he drafted the Good Neighbor Agreement with Beacon Village and will likely participate in future community outreach for these Multnomah County initiatives.

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