Community forums reveal unfamiliarity of 'Safe Rest Villages'
As the City of Portland starts to roll out locations on its own properties for "Safe Rest Villages" for the homeless, reactions from Southeast residents reveal that many have no idea what the plan involves, and how the plan differs from unofficial and unsupervised encampments which have been causing problems for months.
At the Brentwood-Darlington Neighborhood Association (BDNA) monthly public board meeting on Thursday, October 7, there was a half-hour discussion about the Safe Rest Villages. The city had just announced that S.E. 45th Avenue and Harney Street in the neighborhood would be the site of a Safe Rest Village â€“ and then, a day before the BDNA meeting, it was announced that that site would no longer be considered because it is in a flood plain. [See separate story in this issue of THE BEE.]
A number of people attending the meeting expressed frustration that BDNA, and the neighbors and businesses near that location, had not been contacted initially about being chosen as a Safe Rest Village site for twenty "pod shelters".
In the aftermath of the surprise announcement and quick reversal, significant questions were raised about how Safe Rest Villages will be managed. One woman asked, "Will they have someone who could fulfill responsibilities such as those undertaken and performed by an apartment manager?"
A partial answer to that question had been given a day earlier in a television interview with Commissioner Dan Ryan, who oversees the Portland Housing Bureau, as well as the Joint Office of Homeless Services, and the Bureau of Development Services. "Safe Rest Villages will be fully-staffed and carefully-managed, 24/7, outdoor shelters," Ryan said. The Safe Rest Village website says: "These villages will be managed by a contracted social service provider selected by theÂ Joint Office of Homeless Services."Â The overarching goal, Ryan has stated, is preparing people for permanent housing â€“ which he remarks "can't be built fast enough".
The sites will be plumbed, heated, and powered. Prefabricated outdoor individual shelter "pods" will have beds. Refurbished large shipping containers will be set up as part of the site for shared bathrooms, showers, laundry facilities, kitchenettes, refrigerators and microwaves for heating up food. Residents will be selected on a referral basis.
The first three villages will be funded by money from the American Rescue Act, which is for recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and economic recession. Commissioner Ryan maintains that the city will fund these sites for the next three years.
One man at the BDNA meeting shared that he is "in recovery", and questioned how people in the outdoor shelters would receive the services they need to prepare them for jobs and future permanent housing. Will there be social and behavioral services provided to their houseless residents?
The answer, taken from the Safe Rest Villages website, states that villages will provide residents with, "Access to support services, including case management and behavioral/mental health supports, and substance abuse services."
A few more comments raised general questions about the city process that authorized the villages. Some background on the process answers those questions:
In April of this year, PortlandÂ City Council unanimously passed an ordinance changing the zoning code to allow for outdoor "pod" villages to be placed on city-owned properties. Commissioner Ryan's office was tasked with identifying the potential sites.
In June the Council passed the "Paving the Pathway from Streets to Stability" ordinance, which put into code the approach and regulatory tools needed to build a total of six Safe Rest Villages by the end of December of this year.
Then, in July, the city identified 70 city-owned properties where Safe Rest Villages might be set up. The list was reduced to 40, and then three were chosen as priorities among the first six to be set up by the end of the year. The Brentwood-Darlington site on S.E. 45th Avenue was not on the original list. However, when one of the sites was discarded, it was added as a late substitution site.
Toward the end of the discussion, BDNA Board Member â€“ and also part of the original Errol Heights Steering Committee â€“ Gail Kiely informed the group that the Bureau of Environmental Services has already put forth Plan A and Plan B for the asphalt/concrete parking lot site. "Plan A is to dig up all of the asphalt and construct a retaining wall. Plan B is to have a small viewing area of the wetlands. Which of the two has not been decided," she remarked. "Maybe both?"
BDNA Chairperson Chelsea Powers ended the discussion by observing, "The [city] Bureaus don't talk to each other. . . We should monitor…how the process goes, and see how we can have input to try and make these [Safe Rest Village sites] the best for everybody â€“ both the housed and un-housed."
For more information, go online â€“ www.portland.gov/ryan/safe-rest-villages
To view the archive of Brentwood-Darlington Neighborhood Association's recorded virtual meetings, visit â€“ brentwood-darlington.org
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