The end appears to be near for a North Portland tiny home village serving those who seek refuge from life on the streets.
The city's Homelessness and Urban Camping Impact Reduction Program quietly announced plans to "decommission" Hazelnut Grove Village on Jan. 18 — saying that many of its 16 inhabitants will move into pods at the newly-built St. Johns Village.
Activists, however, are unlikely to abandon the village without a fight.
"Putting residents into a social services setting that may not meet their needs — especially in the middle of a pandemic, when we should be sheltering in place — is really quite dangerous," said Ethan Livermore, a statewide coordinating committee member for Oregon Poor People's Campaign.
An online petition to save the village has already gathered some 2,000 signatures. And rumors are flying of an "eviction defense" similar to the barricades built along the Red House on Mississippi Avenue in December.
About half those living at Hazelnut have accepted a berth at St. Johns Village, which will offer full bathroom, kitchen and laundry facilities when it opens as soon as Feb. 1 or later that week. But the relocation trades self governance and autonomy for oversight from the nonprofit Do Good Multnomah. Holdouts have been offered access to more traditional shelters.
Commissioner Dan Ryan, the city's liaison with the Joint Office of Homeless Services, believes the solution is "respectful, innovative, and safe," though he acknowledged the controversy.
"It's understandable that people have passionate opinions on both sides," he said in a statement. "We're making decisions that affect people's sense of safety and their living environment."
Hazelnut Grove sprung up in 2015 on a wooded slope near the corner of North Greeley and Interstate avenues in the shadow of the interchange of interstates 5 and 405.
The city has promised to remove the camp since 2017, citing the risk of fires or a landslide, a decision the majority of the leaders of the Overlook Neighborhood Association support. But five years and two mayoral administrations later, the camp persists.
According to Chris Trejbal, vice chair of the Overlook NA, Hazelnut Grove sits on land with legal restrictions reserving the area for transportation uses only. Those rules were written onto the deed when the Oregon Department of Transportation purchased the land with federal dollars in 1956 before constructing the Fremont Bridge, and remain to this day, even after ODOT handed the parcel over to Portland's Bureau of Transportation.
"This was the first attempt at an organized village model, and it was a failed attempt," said Trejbal. "It took root without engaging the neighborhood, and it existed without wraparound services or a transition to permanent housing."
Portland has never officially permitted the camp, though it does pay for portable bathrooms, trash collection and a fence separating the village from a nearby multi-use path at a cost of approximately $1,500 every month.
Trejbal, whose association sent a letter to City Hall calling for Hazelnut's removal on Jan. 5, says while the camp has seen some fights and illegally parked cars, it's actually other campers in the area who cause the most problems.
"The perception is, when the city allowed Hazelnut Grove to stay for so long, that Overlook was a place where they could go camp and the city wouldn't hassle them," he said.
But activists like Livermore say they're frustrated with the city's lack of communication, saying they only learned the decision was final from a press release. Now Livermore expects the closure sometime within two weeks to a month.
"This is something that is really frustrating and traumatizing residents," he said. "This is a place of joy and beauty and safety in really uncertain times."
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