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'Just dropping it in our laps': Neighbors surprised by city's plan to put homeless villages near them

“They're not talking to anybody. They're just doing it,” said Jim Widener, who owns a house near one of the sites. “They're just dropping it in our laps."

PORTLAND, Ore. — People in three Portland neighborhoods got a big surprise this week when city officials informed them, via a Thursday afternoon press conference, that organized tiny house villages are moving in.

The locations are:

  • A lot owned by both the city of Portland and ODOT on the 2300 block of SW Naito Parkway, along the west side of Naito (downtown Portland)
  • A city-owned lot at 8330 SE 45th Avenue, along the east side of 45th at Southeast Harney Street (the Brentwood-Darlington neighborhood)
  • A TriMet-owned lot, known as the “Menlo Park & Ride”, on the southeast corner of Southeast 122nd Avenue and East Burnside Street (the Hazelwood neighborhood)

It’s a done deal, Housing Commissioner Dan Ryan said Thursday. He hopes to open six "Safe Rest Villages" by the end of the year. Funded by $20 million in federal COVID aid, they’ll hold up to 60 people each. Ryan said his staff hope to announce the other three locations as soon as possible. The villages, he said, will be open for at least three years.

RELATED: Portland releases locations of three Safe Rest Villages, vows to open six by 2022

“Safe Rest Villages are fenced, fully staffed 24/7 managed outdoor shelters,” Commissioner Ryan said at the news conference.

Friday, KGW heard from people living and working near all three sites.

“They're not talking to anybody. They're just doing it,” said Jim Widener, who owns a house near the TriMet property. “They're just dropping it in our laps and saying deal with it. And it's putting a hardship on everybody.”

A woman, who didn’t want to be identified, reached out to KGW about the Naito property, which sits across the street from the International School of Portland, an elementary school. She wrote she's "beyond appalled" at the city’s decision to place a village near the school, adding she worries about kids' safety.

She forwarded KGW a letter sent by school administrators to parents in which they wrote, “We are collaborating with the Downtown Neighborhood Association to develop a comprehensive plan to collaborate with Commissioner Ryan and ensure that we increase the safety and security of our campus while also fostering well-being and happiness for all of Portland’s residents.”

Koda, a man camping on the Naito property Friday, said he agrees it’s a bad idea to put a homeless village near a school.

“It's a safety hazard bringing kids into the mix next to a village of homeless people who are possibly using,” he said.

A representative for the school declined to comment further on the announcement, citing the letter.

City officials have said the villages will be carefully managed, adding the people in them will be referred by nonprofits.

RELATED: Straight Talk: Commissioner Dan Ryan promises urgent action on two Portland crises — homelessness and gun violence

Friday, KGW brought those concerns to people with lived experience: neighbors in North Portland’s Kenton neighborhood who live near the Kenton Women’s Village, which has been housing homeless women since 2017.

“You know, it can be a good thing, it can be a bad thing,” said Cameron Morgan, who lives near the site.

Morgan said the village itself has always been peaceful, but in the last couple years, crime and camping around it have gotten worse. He hesitated, though, to place any blame on the village itself.

“Since the authorities cannot police and take care of the homelessness problem and transients, that's the negative part of it,” he said.

Morgan added his property's value has not gone down, but multiple neighbors are moving. They’re not fleeing the neighborhood, he noted. They’re moving out of Portland, where crime and homelessness are spiking citywide.

Morgan's points were echoed by Tyler Roppe, the vice chair of the Kenton Neighborhood Association.

He also noted, there's a key difference between that project and the city's new endeavor.

"The Kenton Women's Village was a fairly unique experience in that the neighborhood had an opportunity to tell the city to move forward or not ... It gave neighbors a real sense of ownership over the project," he said. "The Safe Rest Villages is not a grassroots community driven process. It's more a 'Okay, we've selected a site. Here's where it is. Here's what we're going to do.'"

Roppe added, overall, neighbors are glad the Kenton Women's Village moved in, and if he could go back, he'd endorse doing it again.

Given how fast the Safe Rest Villages project is moving, he said, "I think it's going to be harder then than people think."

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