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Proposed Safe Rest Village site at former Portland middle school rejected

A Portland Public Schools board committee voted against using the former Whitaker Middle School campus to host a city-sanctioned homeless village.
Credit: KGW News
Former site of Whitaker Middle School off Marine Drive in Northeast Portland

PORTLAND, Ore. — A Portland Public Schools (PPS) board committee on Wednesday voted against using the former Whitaker Middle School campus in Northeast Portland as a site for a city-sanctioned homeless village. 

In October, city officials announced they were looking into the site, located off Northeast 42nd Avenue near Killingsworth Street, to build one of six Safe Rest Villages throughout Portland. 

"As a PPS Board member, I have a fiduciary duty and responsibility to utilize our land and properties to support our mission to educate Portland's children and this proposal does not meet that mark," board member Julia Brim-Edwards said 

Brim-Edwards said the property is adjacent to a neighborhood park that she considers a community hub. She also mentioned the board adopted a resolution in the early 2000s to possibly replace Whitaker with a different middle school, which further propelled her decision to vote against the site. 

Commissioner Dan Ryan, who is leading the city's Safe Rest Village program, released a statement that said, in part, "Although today’s vote is unfortunate in terms of the Safe Rest Villages program, it is understandable. The City is passionate about building partnerships with organizations and entities that are ‘all in’ to deliver concrete action for."

Ryan said the pending relocation of Harriett Tubman Middle School, based on the Oregon Department of Transportation's plan to widen the Rose Quarter section of Interstate 5, is a "clear and obvious rationale for such a decision."

The city had planned on opening all six homeless villages by the end of 2021, but it has been a struggle for officials to find suitable sites. In early December, the city pushed back the plan to 2022

So far, Commissioner Ryan's office has only announced three planned locations:

  • A city-owned lot on the 2300 block of SW Naito Parkway, along the west side of the street in downtown Portland
  • A Trimet-owned lot, known as the “Menlo Park & Ride”, on the southeast corner of SE 122nd Avenue and East Burnside Street in East Portland
  • The former SFC Jerome F. Sears Army Reserve Center on Southwest Multnomah Boulevard in Southwest Portland, which has been used as an emergency shelter in the past

One proposed site near Southeast 45th and Harney was nixed when the city discovered that the land sat in a floodplain. A different proposed site that would've allowed people to park cars and RVs at the Portland Expo Center was rejected because it would have cost $1.5 million to redevelop the land for it. 

Meanwhile, Ryan asked the school board to consider other properties in the school district's portfolio for a possible Safe Rest Village site. 

"Our city is suffering deeply from our houselessness crisis," he said. "It is impacting us all, and everyone is looking to local leaders to step up in these trying times and do things that we’ve never done before. We welcome PPS as a partner to provide viable solutions and hope this is just the beginning."