Those of us who have lived near the old Sears Army Reserve Center at 2731 Southwest Multnomah Boulevard for a few years have long sensed the day was coming when the site would again host people who don't have a house to go home to.
That day came at the beginning of Thanksgiving week. Portland City Commissioner Dan Ryan announced that 60 tiny-house-type structures will be built in the parking lot at the Sears site. Each "pod" can house two people. A bunch of services will be provided. The Safe Rest Village, as it's called, will be staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week, he promised.
The plan, such as it is, for the Sears parking lot, was presented by Ryan as a done deal. A Safe Rest Village site near the Springwater Corridor was a done deal until it was found to sit in a flood plain. Building a Safe Rest Village where Whitaker Middle School once sat at Northeast Killingsworth and 42nd has been put on hold until early next year.
There are those who oppose this plan for the Sears Armory parking lot and will fight it vigorously. There are those who favor the idea and might actually inquire about volunteering someday. And there are those of us willing to listen to the details of the plan. Problem is, details are scarce and communication is rare.
Engage the neighbors, or ignore them? That's the question facing Ryan's staff, which is already scrambling trying to build Rome in a day.
Their boss keeps making promises about Safe Rest Villages being operational within months.
"The timeline is we're going to get these built and they're going to be built as soon as possible and we will have some up and running in early 2022," Ryan said at a Joint Town Hall on Houselessness in Portland hosted by State Representative Lisa Reynolds (D—D 36) on December 8.
Moses Ross, president of the Multnomah Neighborhood Association, got a meeting with Ryan's staff two weeks after the announcement was first made.
"I pointed out to them that you've got this backwards. If they had done the communication outreach first and then done their work, it would have been a completely different story. People wouldn't have been blindsided. People would have been more receptive," he said at the MNA board meeting Tuesday, December 7.
Whether the Multnomah Neighborhood Association will support or oppose Ryan's plan remains to be seen. There will be a General Meeting in mid-December, providing Sears' neighbors with their first chance to speak out and ask questions.
People interested in how this plays out were asked to submit their questions to that Joint Houselessness session. Lots of questions were submitted. Questions anyone would ask if a Safe Rest Village was going in next door. Very few were answered.
You don't need to read much social media to know which way the wind's blowing on this issue. Ask reasonable and relevant questions or question the community engagement process and you may as well be wearing a red baseball cap. Judges are gonna judge. This is polarizing stuff.
"As far as NIMBY or YIMBY or whatever, there's a very real distinction when this is truly in your backyard. I can see it from my bedroom window.
"I recognize that we collectively have an issue to address. But I'd personally fight pretty damn hard to keep it from being developed in this location," said one participant at the neighborhood association meeting.
The one question I would ask is, Is it better for the future residents and current neighbors to do this right or to do this fast?
Bill Gallagher lives in Southwest Portland near the Sears Armory. He previously served as editor of the Southwest Community Connection from 2018 to 2020.
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