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North Valley Friends Church holds discussions with officials from nearby Veritas School

COURTESY PHOTO: NVFC - Revised plans for the design of Peace Trail Village came about after discussions between North Valley Friends Church and Veritas School officials.

Under fire nearly since its inception, Peace Trail Village will see some changes as it comes closer to fruition at North Valley Friends Church.

Plans for the transitional housing complex, envisioned in conjunction with Providence Health & Services, have begun with the aid of the city, which provided partial funding for the effort via American Rescue Plan Act grants from the federal government.

"Peace Trail Village is working on our construction application for the city, which we intend to submit at the end of October," Pastor Leslie Hodgdon Murray said in an email. "We are still working on engineering and architecture at this point."

At buildout, the village will consist of nine 300-square-foot cottages. A community space will separate the homes, and a laundry facility will be erected opposite the home cluster behind the church's gym. The original design of the project called for the homes to be arranged in a circle, but that was altered to two rows of homes.

Some changes to the design of the project came about after the church's discussions with officials at nearby Veritas School. Attempts to gain comment from those officials were unsuccessful by press time Aug. 31.

"NVFC has continued meeting with (the) Veritas board for ongoing conversations about our working agreements," Murray said, explaining that the church first began meeting with two groups from the school — the board and some parents. "We met once with a group representing some parents, and after that conversation, we realized that they did not represent all parents and we felt like we needed to assure that communications weren't fragmented, so we've directed our communication with the Veritas board. Our legal agreements and working arrangement are with the Veritas board and that is the pathway of communication for our church."

The meetings have proved fruitful, for the most part.

"We hosted a presentation and Q&A for parents of Veritas students (in late July)," Murray said. "Many concerns were addressed, but not all as we still have work to do on a Good Neighbor Agreement and program structures for Peace Trail Village. With the partnership of Providence, we feel this is an incredible program that our city and county can get excited about. I can say that many from Veritas have reached out to me and let me know that many of their fears have been laid to rest."

Specifically, Murray said, the church changed the shape of the project "so it's bit farther from (the) Veritas playground."

Murray reminded readers that as part of a long-range plan developed 25 years ago, the church was determined to host a Christian school on the property, adding "Veritas School next door was part of the fulfillment of the original plan."COURTESY GRAPHIC: NVFC - The tiny homes that will make up Peace Trail Village will be permanent structures with foundations and a full complement of utilities.

The original plan also called for building duplexes for people in temporary need, but that was altered several years ago to constructing tiny homes in a large circle, then rejiggered once again to erect nine homes in a cottage cluster much nearer to the border with the school.

"We changed the plan by shrinking the homes and the common area for residents to allow more space between the homes and the property line," Murray said. "We are looking at creating natural barriers with trees, shrubs and a berm, after listening to some of the fear and dislike of people in the neighborhood for the cottages."

Murray added that some of the steps the church has taken are designed to protect the cottage residents from others.

"Things like adding a fence around the cottage cluster and also creating an entry point that would have an arbor or structure that would hopefully keep out people who are not living in the cottages," she said, adding that often many people ply the property to either take advantage of the public walking trails or to access the school.

"Having a place to feel safe is one objective to providing housing," Murray said. "We are still in the design phase as we try to look at the project through various lenses. It is our desire to keep all people safe — folks in PTV, students and staff at Veritas, (the) Newberg community that uses the walking trail and our church congregation."

Despite the church efforts to address concerns from school officials and patrons, some in the community stand steadfast in their opposition to Peace Trail Village in general and the city's involvement in addressing homelessness in particular.

Soon after the Peace Trail Village concept was unveiled, a groundswell of opposition arose in the form of an initiative petition to stop the city of Newberg from creating housing for homeless people without a vote of the people, as well as barring such facilities within 1,500 feet of a school. The initial petition failed to garner the necessary signatures to place the initiative on the November general election ballot, but Kids Not Camps officials have said they have sufficient signatures to place the question on the May 2023 primary ballot.

Criticism of the church and the city has been harsh and relentless on social media, including claims that North Valley is failing to live up to the standards of its Quaker founders.

Murray responded to that criticism in particular.

"I take a deep breath before answering this question because so much of what has been said on social media and through the petition is slanderous and completely untrue," she said. "NVFC is a Quaker congregation through and through. If anyone studies the history of Quakers for the last 400 years you will quickly find that historically Quakers have been at the forefront of social justice and working to alleviate suffering.

"As a church we have prayed and discerned this direction as faithfulness to God and would not be doing it if we didn't feel clear with that directive. We are not dissuaded from trying to help, mostly confused and so very sad that there are folks in our community who would believe the untruths that are being said about us and (Peace Trail Village)."

How did controversy begin?

News of the Peace Trail Village project had been circulating through the community for some time, but the pushback against it really heightened at a Newberg City Council meeting in late June. The council heard a report from a group of graduate students at Portland State University on the issue of "car camping" in the community. The church is exploring the idea of hosting multiple vehicles for several nights in hopes of alleviating the housing shortage in the community.

Citizen Bill Rosacker vowed at the meeting to stop the city from being part of fostering car camping or homeless facilities, hence the petition and the threat of litigation against councilors and administrators contained in the ballot title: "This measure makes public officials liable to reimburse the city for unauthorized expenditures and allows any taxpayer to sue on the city's behalf."

The wording of the initiative is specific in its intent to bar the city from using public resources to promulgate "homeless encampments" locally.

"'Homeless encampment' means any property approved for use as an outdoor living space where tents, cabins, yurts, automobiles, recreational vehicles or any housing structures lacking a permanent foundation or modern indoor plumbing facilities are used for transitional housing, or any section of public right of way where camping is allowed for purposes of temporary housing," the initiative reads.

The pushback against the city and the church's plans progressed in mid-July after the website was launched and local residents began receiving professional-quality mailers from "The Newberg Kids Not Camps Team." Both the mailer and the website carefully walked residents through the process of signing the petition and also recruits petition gatherers.

Not the church's first rodeo

The church actually first began installing transitional housing at its North College Street site with the construction of two units in 2018 and 2021 in the form of tiny homes. Another tiny home was finished earlier this year but will house a local resident permanently.

Like their tiny home neighbors, Peace Trail Village residents will have access to wrap-around-care, case management, referrals and help navigating benefits via Providence Newberg Medical Center's Better Outcomes Through Bridges (BOB).

"It's all individualized," Murray said. "What does this specific person want or need? And how can Providence assist and help?"

Once clients undergo a background check and agree to the program's terms and set goals for themselves, they are encouraged to slow down and recoup.

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