Problems arise at Kenton Women's Village
Six months in to its year-long pilot project, the Kenton Women's Village meant to transition formerly homeless women into permanent housing is facing trouble.
In a statement posted to its website on Sunday, the Kenton Neighborhood Association stated that allegations of "illegal activity" had occurred at the village, located across the street from Kenton Park in North Portland.
The first steering committee meeting for all members involved is on Monday evening, Nov. 13, where Kenton Neighborhood Association chair Tyler Roppe expects much of the meeting will discuss the issues.
Catholic Charities, the nonprofit taksed with overseeing the village, including having two site managers who work there, issued a statement blaming the fact that residents of the village are protected under landlord-tenant law, meaning they don't have to participate in case management and can't be easily evicted for violating rules.
"While there is a zero-tolerance policy for illegal activity at Kenton Women's Village, the Portland City Attorney's Office informed Catholic Charities that all clients of the village are protected by landlord-tenant law, including eviction procedures. As such, clients violating rules of the village or choosing not to participate in case management may do so, with impunity. Catholic Charities took responsibility for the village under the assumption that landlord-tenant law would not be applicable to this transitional program model," Catholic Charities' statement reads.
It continues: "Because Catholic Charities is committed to assuring the wellbeing of villagers and maintaining a healthy environment for those participating in the program, we find the City Attorney's interpretation of landlord-tenant law to be problematic."
The village, comprised of 14 tiny homes, has 12 women there now after one was transitioned into permanent housing and another left the village because of issues with another resident.
Two women who are married entered the village together, but when things became problematic, one filed a restraining order against the other.
One left voluntarily, according to site manager Bernadette Stetz, while the other stayed. However at least one resident on the site said the woman was forced out rather than left voluntarily.
Several other women were on track to leave the village in the next few weeks as well, according to Stetz.
On Friday evening, an email was sent to groups involved with the installation of the village, including Catholic Charities, the Joint Office of Homeless Services, Village Coalition, Kenton Business Association and others — detailing problems at the village, including a video allegedly showing drug dealing, and reports of other problems.
The video and email was put together by a recently-resigned board member of the Village Coalition, the group that helped champion the village's formation.
Now the neighborhood is questioning Catholic Charities' ability to oversee the village.
They're concerned that the organization may have dismissed or ignored the reports of criminal behavior.
"I feel like there's been a lack of oversight and accountability and the neighborhood had to step into that role," said Tyler Roppe, president of the neighborhood association.
The email was also sent to Commander Robert King at the Portland Police Bureau. Catholic Charities' Executive Director Dean Richard Birkel responded, which the neighborhood association published in its online statement:
"Catholic Charities is committed to assuring the wellbeing of villagers and to maintaining a healthy environment for those who reside there," Birkel wrote. "We have gone above and beyond in many areas of management and security, including securing and paying for overnight security that is not reimbursed by our current limited contract."
The organization plans to investigate.
"Catholic Charities will have a full report of the investigation by the end of the week and will implement necessary changes to respond accordingly. We will continue to collaborate with the community to achieve our shared goals of getting villagers into permanent housing with access to the services they need to succeed," their statement continues.
Including the neighborhood association's concerns about activity at the village, at one point the association sent a letter to the city because a tent encampment had formed near the village.
It was then cleared out by the city.
Catholic Charities gets a total of $150,000 of government funds to run the Kenton village, including $75,000 for one full-time case manager and $75,000 for one full-time village manager.
Tiny homes too cold
Village residents, neighbors as well as Stetz have said the tiny homes aren't at all adequate for winter.
"We had neighbors going down there, like, why are they telling us they're cold?" Roppe said.
Neighbor Terrance Moses has been spending around 30 hours a week at the village helping with various needs, but lately trying to weatherize the homes. He was awarded a Spirit of Portland Award by the city of Portland recently for his efforts.
"They're starting to look pretty good. We're struggling to figure out how to keep them completely warm. So that's one of our toughest challenges right now," he said. "So far the community has donated sleeping bags and blankets. We're trying to figure out if anybody has any ideas on how to heat a small pod like that."
They also are looking for volunteers to help with caulking the homes.
"It's worse than tents," said resident Lynette Ingalls, 52. "The cold stays in the wood (of the tiny home)."
Resident Rachel Flores said once the temperatures have hit below 40, it's especially bad.
"The tin ones, within are like ice boxes," she said.
Students built the homes as part of a design contest. In Ingles' tiny home, the back wall was made of small windows as an aesthetic touch. Moses worked to cover the windows and better insulate the structure for her. They're not allowed to have any heaters due to fire hazards.
Additionally, as the days have been more cloudy and rainy, solar panels aren't holding charge to plug in even an electric blanket.
"I get about 15 minutes (of electricity) at night," Ingalls said.
Of course it's not all bad. Flores, a recovering heroin addict, is happy to have a roof over her head.
"There's safety in numbers. Just having a roof over my head gives me a sense of stability and safety," she said.
She stays with her partner in one of the tiny homes while they use another of the homes for storage.
Update: By the Monday night meeting, the city and nonprofit had reconciled program ambiguities or misunderstandings, and they're proceeding as they had originally intended, meaning there's a high bar for "exclusion," not eviction, since the site operates like an emergency shelter — not permanent housing.
Additionally, Catholic Charities officials said that there's no evidence of drug dealing on the video and they're assuming no illegal activity happened, although they're still investigating.
"One of the issues here is people are making a lot of assumptions. There's a stigma. That's too bad," said Trell Anderson, of Catholic Charities, referring to those who are or were homeless. "We want to make sure we're running a good village."
The project is scheduled to end in June after one year, and it's unclear if it will move to another location or cease operation.
This article originally misspelled Ingalls' last name, and Catholic Charities receives $150,000 from local government, according to the nonprofit.
Reporter, Portland Tribune
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