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Amid mounting housing crisis, officials say Portland on track to open six 'Safe Rest Villages' this year

Commissioner Dan Ryan said his office has hired four staffers to help run the villages. They'll start releasing addresses for some of the sites next week.

PORTLAND, Ore. — In a city already struggling to get thousands of homeless people off its streets, an organized camp currently housing dozens has to find a new location.

The city and county opened what's become known as "Queer Affinity Village" last year, to give more than 30 people in the LGBTQ community somewhere safe to live during the pandemic. The village sits at Southeast Main Street and Water Avenue on city-owned land. As the Portland Tribune first reported, the city of Portland signed a deal a long time ago to let a developer turn this land into office buildings, and that work is supposed to start soon.

Now, officials are scrambling to find "Queer Affinity" a new home, hopefully by the end of this month.

“There is some time there. [The city is] not looking to kick off the village that is on that property on October 1st,” said Denis Theriault, spokesperson for the Joint Office of Homeless Services. “They want to work and make sure the relocation process can happen, and that work is ongoing.”

Theriault added officials knew this was coming. This site was always supposed to be temporary, as was the one across the street. Officials have already moved that village, for Black and Indigenous people, to a new property in the Lloyd District. The two villages together had been dubbed C3PO.

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People in the remaining “Queer Affinity Village” declined KGW’s request Wednesday to do interviews.

The move comes as city officials work to nail down details on a highly anticipated plan, announced earlier this year: to build and open six Safe Rest Villages, or organized, legal camps, throughout the city. Housing Commissioner Dan Ryan first described the plan back in June, adding the city would pay for it with $20 million in federal COVID aid.

“If we could have six safe rest villages up and running by the end of September that’s a step in the right direction,” the commissioner said then.

Commissioner Ryan’s staff later adjusted the timeline, saying the villages would open by the end of the year, but they never explained the reason behind the change.

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In an interview Wednesday, Commissioner Ryan told KGW he believed he misspoke. The villages, he said, were always supposed to be opened by the end of 2021.

Ryan added his office has hired four staffers to help run the villages and that staff will start releasing addresses for some of the sites next week.

“We have a great team in place all within two months, and I think that [Portlanders] will hopefully remain supportive and helpful as we do some really tough work to get these [villages] up and running by the end of the calendar year,” Commissioner Ryan said. 

They want to hear from Portlanders, he said, pointing people to a new email address aimed at gathering public input on the villages.

“We're asking them to write into saferestvillages@oregon.gov,” Ryan said. “We're convinced that there's enthusiasm for this, and [Portlanders] will rally behind us as we build these villages and provide services in a humane way.”

A staff member for Commissioner Ryan said Thursday the city is looking at the list of roughly 70 city-owned sites released earlier this year but noted they’ve expanded that search.

“We are looking at all public lands (subject to zoning stipulations – Open Spaced zoned sites are not eligible for outdoor shelters), so that includes Metro, TriMet, ODOT and so forth,” wrote Bryan Aptekar, project communications liaison for the villages. “We are also looking at private properties we might lease or purchase.”

Aptekar added, one of the sites they plan to announce soon will house people living in their cars and RVs. When it comes to the others, he noted, “We have pods ready to drop in place at some of the sites as soon as the locations are confirmed.”

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