PORTLAND, Ore. — As Safe Rest Villages open across the city, a Portland nonprofit is taking a different approach to housing the homeless community.
WeShine is looking to private landowners to build micro-villages for people experiencing homelessness. One village is already under construction in the Parkrose Community United Church of Christ parking lot near Northeast 122nd and Halsey.
“Our vision is that there would be many of these micro-villages scattered through Portland,” said Jan McManus, executive director of WeShine.
The plan is to get the ball rolling with funding from the Joint Office of Homeless Services and the City of Portland, in addition to grants and donations.
“We think that small model makes sense for a lot of people with complex needs who tend to fall through the cracks,” said McManus.
The village will house about 12 people in the BIPOC and LGBTQ+ communities. They will be able to stay in the 10 pods for two years.
“We are so excited about the opportunity. There are so many houseless [people] in this community,” said Blair Loudat, who works at the church.
She said WeShine will pay the church $1,200 per month to lease the land.
“If we can house 10 people or more, if there are couples, we are making a very small dent in a very big problem,” Loudat added.
The micro-village at the church will be a low-barrier shelter, meaning there will be no background checks. Drugs and alcohol will be allowed, which concerns neighbors who said the neighborhood is already dangerous.
“I'm not very happy about it,” said Sam Farah, owner of Farmer’s Insurance across the street.
“We're working adults and we don't even feel safe to come to work,” she added.
Deanna Binney, who works at an accounting office across the street, said she doesn't feel safe after all the crime she's seen in the area.
“We've had shootings down the street. We had a gentleman drive through 122 and Halsey shooting at cars,” said Binney. “I like to walk down the street. We are here very long days and we need to take a break, and I don't feel safe to do that even in the daylight hours right now it's not safe for us to be here.”
Nearby businesses keep their doors locked, and some said they have spent thousands of dollars on repairs and other expenses because of people camping on their property.
Some business owners said they're frustrated with the lack of communication from WeShine.
Kevin Minkoff, who owns the accounting firm where Binney works, only found out about the village a few weeks ago.
“They are not being very forthcoming. They just don't want to explain how they're going to take care of certain problems that we're afraid are going to go on over there,” he said.
“The contention that we've heard is you'll bring an element that we don't want in the neighborhood. Well unfortunately, the element is already here,” said Loudat with Parkrose Community United Church of Christ.
“We aren't going to tolerate violence among our guests,” said McManus with WeShine. “We don't really anticipate there being a violence issue .”
The Joint Office of Homeless Services is finalizing its contract with WeShine and people are expected to start moving into the village next month.