The first Safe Rest Village in Portland is slated to start accepting residents as soon as next week. At the Sears Armory parking lot in Southwest Portland's Multnomah Village neighborhood, 30 white Pallet shelter pods will soon be occupied by previously unsheltered residents living on Portland's streets.
On Thursday, June 9, volunteers with the newly formed Friends of Multnomah Safe Rest Village dropped off new pillows and blankets as welcome gifts.
"It's a group that we started because we wanted to make sure that before coming here, the participants feel welcome to our neighborhood the same way any new neighbor would be welcomed," said volunteer Sandy Stienecker said. "We feel very, very strongly about the need to respond to the housing crisis. The largest growing group of people who are houseless is the aged, and so, it could be me. I think we all feel like we need to provide any support that we can."
The pods are compact — roughly the size of a small storage shed — offering a cot bed, heater, air conditioning and small windows. Restrooms, showers and a kitchenette will be available at each Safe Rest site, as well as laundry facilities. Wrap-around services like access to health care and behavioral health services will also set the Safe Rest Villages apart from most other shelter models in the city. The shelter program is funded with federal American Rescue Plan Act money.
The Safe Rest model isn't a permanent housing solution, but city and county leaders hope the transitional model will help get people off the streets and into the temporary pods until they're ready to move into long-term, stable housing.
Prior to taking shape at the Sears Armory lot, nearby neighbors were outspoken about concerns over unsanctioned camping near the site, as well as safety and noise issues. One resident even filed a lawsuit against the city for its failure to conduct a routine public land use review process before setting up the temporary shelter, but that lawsuit was dismissed.
City officials previously told Pamplin Media Group that because the outdoor shelters are considered an emergency use, they don't require all of the typical permitting or review processes.
Nearly every proposed Safe Rest Village site has been met with similar resistance.
Andy Goebel is the executive director of All Good Northwest, the organization that will manage the Multnomah shelter site. Goebel said a good neighbor agreement is in the works among the city and county's Joint Office of Homeless Services, All Good Northwest and the Multnomah Neighborhood Association.
"I know that they're working in tandem with the Joint Office, with the city and also with the Impact Reduction Team to ensure that we don't end up having perimeter camping," Goebel said, noting if shelter managers do notice people camping nearby, they'll reach out to redirect them to services or shelters.
Goebel said villages have proven successful in the past and work for those who are homeless but reluctant to go into a congregate shelter or accept services there.
"With our robust staffing and wraparound support services model, we're able to engage with individuals here and have quite a bit of success in finding housing and self-efficacy and independence because we're working with a behavioral health team," Goebel said. "We have peer support, navigation, housing navigation specialists, case management that all wraps around each individual person too, because this isn't the last stop. This is a place to be and to do some intentional work on moving toward the next step. And this particular model is really conducive to that because people feel a sense of safety, a sense of community, a sense of being cared for by one another and being cared for by the staff."
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