Hillsboro fairgrounds to become managed homeless camp
Washington County plans to open a managed, outdoor camp in an effort to reduce the risk of COVID-19 spreading in the county's homeless population.
The camp called "Safe Sleep Village" will be located in Hillsboro at Westside Commons, the property previously known as the Washington County Fair Complex, the county announced Friday, July 24.
It will provide up to 50 campsites spaced to encourage social distancing in the paved West Parking Lot of the property. The Cloverleaf Building, adjacent to the West Parking Lot, will be used for meals, restroom and shower facilities and as a cooling and warming station, depending on the weather conditions, according to a statement from the county.
"The goal of the Safe Sleep Village project is to lower the number of people living in four existing informal camps in Washington County and provide them with a facilitated, safe sleeping location and therefore reduce the risk associated with COVID-19 and being houseless," a county spokesperson stated.
The county has been searching for a location to open a camp for two months, officials said Friday. They said public health guidelines "are very difficult for houseless individuals to accomplish."
Officials said their goal is to open Safe Sleep Village on Aug. 4. They plan to run the camp through Dec. 1, when campers can be transitioned into the severe weather shelter network.
The camp will be managed by the nonprofit Project Homeless Connect Board, which will have staff on-site 24 hours every day.
The county Board of Commissioners has allocated about $483,000 for the project from its distribution of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
People wishing to camp at the facility must be 18 or older and be referred by county officials managing homeless services.
"Outreach workers will visit (four) existing non-managed houseless camps and will offer referrals to those interested in relocating to the Safe Sleep Village," the county said.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, eight people who said they were unhoused have tested positive for COVID-19, making up less than 1% of the county's total cases, said Marni Kuyl, director of the county Department of Health and Human Services. Eleven people who reported being unstably housed have also tested positive, Kuyl said.
"I think this reflects the important work public health and the county have done in partnership with Community Action, our county housing services and many great community-based organizations to prevent COVID infections within the homeless population," Kuyl said.
County Board Chair Kathryn Harrington said in a statement the project is a protective measure due to the continued presence of COVID-19 in the area.
"By working together with Westside Commons and the city of Hillsboro, we can lower the number of people currently living in these informal camps throughout Washington County and reduce the spread of COVID-19 in our community," Harrington said.
The county needed to find a location for the camp that would minimally impact neighboring properties and met other criteria, including access to public transit, enough space to allow distancing and access to water, the county said.
"Preventing the spread of COVID-19 by addressing the immediate needs of people without housing in our community is essential," said Hillsboro Mayor Steve Callaway. "This site will offer many services to help our community members stay safe and healthy during this pandemic. We appreciate and support the county's ongoing work."
Local officials have been advising homeless residents to socially distance as much as possible since the beginning of the pandemic when seasonal shelters closed and public buildings shut their doors.
Temporary shelters that opened in Beaverton and Hillsboro in April closed at the end of May. They served 162 people, county officials said. The county supported the shelters with funds from Oregon Housing & Community Services.
After state lockdown orders, local nonprofits and county emergency managers organized outreach and the delivery of basic resources and sanitary services to homeless people.
A respite facility for homeless people experiencing COVID-19 symptoms that opened in April at the Comfort Inn & Suites in Hillsboro will stay open through mid-December, county officials say.
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