PORTLAND, Ore. — Portland City Commissioner Dan Ryan had hoped to have six Safe Rest Villages, planned tiny home communities for residents without homes, open across the city by the end of 2021. That didn't happen.
The process has been slower and harder than anticipated, but in this week's episode of Straight Talk, Ryan said the work has taken on new momentum and he hopes to have all the sites open by the end of this year.
Mayor Ted Wheeler's emergency declaration in February was pivotal, Ryan said, because it gave him office emergency powers to expedite village locations.
"I think ever since the Mayor gave us emergency authority to plot the land, to identify where they're located, that was a big game changer and we're making progress," he said.
And even with only some of the villages open, Ryan said city staff and partners are already starting to see the results they were hoping for. In the past three months, 23 people who were once living on the streets have transitioned through existing Safe Rest Villages and into permanent housing.
"Why? Well, they are in a setting where they can build relationships," he said. "They are safe from being on the streets. And they have a chance to work with a case manager. And we know their name."
Ryan called the Safe Rest Villages an "on-ramp from being chronically homeless to having a shot at resilience and moving forward in life."
Menlo Park village set to open in September
The proposed village at the Menlo Park and Ride, owned by TriMet, is on track to open by the end of September, Ryan said. It's slated to have 60 tiny homes built locally at the Stanley Tiny Homes shop in St. Johns.
"We are really excited about the partnership with the builder," Ryan said. "It's someone with lived experience that is now giving back to the community. They're working with women's trade organizations, which is good. The multiplier effect of what these can do for the eco-system of Portland is really important to us."
Ryan said city staff and officials are grateful to be able to use local resources, which is especially helpful with current supply chain issues.
Location challenges for the first village
Portland's first Safe Rest Village, off Southwest Multnomah Boulevard at the Sears Army Reserve Center, ran into an obstacle when the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) said the village violates deed restrictions on how the land is supposed to be used.
The federal government gave the city clearance to use the property in 2012, with the stipulation that it would only be used for emergency management services. FEMA said it didn't recognize the Safe Rest Village as an emergency use, but the agency allowed the village to stay on part of the parking lot while the issue is being discussed.
Ryan said he's optimistic the question will be resolved and the federal government will allow the village to remain.
"This is an emergency," he said. "This is a humanitarian crisis we are dealing with. And I know the staff is working with FEMA. I am in communication with members of our federal delegation. And we are aligned that this is the right thing to do."
Complaints from neighbors
Ryan's office has gotten complaints from neighbors of some of the villages, some of whom have said they don't feel the city is adequately listening to their concerns. The Lents Neighborhood Livability Association held an Aug. 20 rally to protest the proposed village near Southeast 106th Avenue and Reedway.
Ryan said he and his team have been to at least 50 meetings with neighbors and neighborhood associations about the Safe Rest Villages, and said he thinks the communication has been as "healthy as it could be."
"I think when you are in an emergency and building with all these headwinds against you, it's going to be a bumpy ride, but this is where we are, and you have to have the courage to do what is right for the city of Portland right now," he said.
He said he's also found that once the villages are built, the opposition tends to dissipate, and he's seen a good response once they're open. Neighbors around the village on Multnomah Boulevard have been supportive.
"I am really encouraged and excited about the way neighbors are leaning in at that site," he said. "There's a garden plot that is now taking off. There's going to be a job fair next week."
Ryan said he's feeling confident that, as long as the city doesn't run into supply chain issues, he and his team can have the remaining Safe Rest Villages open by the end of the year.
Also on this episode of Straight Talk
On Straight Talk this week, Ryan also discussed why he plans to vote "no" on the measure to change Portland's form of government, and why he thinks people should come back to work downtown at least three days a week.
He also said he will lead the way on a city proclamation supporting the Trail Blazers and the city’s fervent desire to keep the team in Rip City. He said that proclamation will be timed to coincide close to the team's home opener against the Phoenix Suns on October 21st.
"Straight Talk" airs Friday at 7pm, Saturday at 8:30pm, and Sunday at 6:30pm.
Straight Talk is also available as a podcast.