PORTLAND, Ore. — A community group representing neighbors and schools in Southwest Portland has pulled back support for a Safe Rest Village site set to open this month, after they say the city and county ignored their requests for collaboration and brushed off safety concerns about the low-barrier shelter.
Safe Rest Villages are organized pods of tiny homes, managed by nonprofits with services onsite. Three villages are expected to be up and running by September.
The 2300 Naito Parkway Stakeholder Group was organized by leaders at the International School of Portland and Bridges Middle School and has collaborated with nearby neighborhood associations and HOAs to prepare for the village. The site on Southwest Naito will house the Queer Affinity Village, which prioritizes LGBTQ individuals experiencing homelessness.
Bodo Heiliger, head of the International School of Portland, and Beven Byrnes, principal and executive director at Bridges Middle School, announced Friday morning that after initially vocally supporting the plan, they could no longer do so.
They expressed frustration with Portland Commissioner Dan Ryan's office especially, which they said has repeatedly "denied, dismissed and ignored" their concerns.
Ryan refuted that claim, saying in a statement "there have been at least a dozen meetings" with Byrnes and Heiliger, and consistent communication with the stakeholder group.
The group wants to see the villages require campers to undergo low-barrier background checks to identify major felony convictions, a monitored 1000-foot buffer around the village where camping would be banned, and the establishment of a Safe Rest Village advisory board that includes community members.
"There has been no collaboration. These are basic, common and common-sense requirements," said Heiliger.
Currently, city rules instate a 150-foot camping ban buffer around Safe Rest Villages, which Ryan said was enacted in response to a request from the stakeholder group.
Heiliger said the city initially told him background checks would be required when it first announced the location of the Safe Rest Village, implying it would follow a similar model to St. Johns Village, which also requires background checks.
"Not requiring background checks is an inaccurate description of low-barrier. It defines a no-barrier shelter," Heiliger said.
Ryan said no publicly funded shelters in Multnomah County screen for criminal history.
"The primary goal of our services-first villages is to meet people where they are and to engage them in services that build stability, dignity, and resilience. That includes removing the obstacles that often keep someone who is unsheltered from coming into shelter," Ryan's statement said.
He added the Queer Affinity Village has a code of conduct villagers must abide by, along with 24/7 services onsite.
Heiliger said the stakeholder group's issues are specifically with the city of Portland and the Joint Office of Homeless Services, not All Good Northwest, the nonprofit managing the village.
"It's been untenable. It's been a terrible process," he said.
"We've offered resources of our stakeholder group — which has a lot of information, community service working with this population already — to serve as a resource for them in the planning phases. And we have been through every step of the way denied access to information, to site plans, to budgets, anything that would be helpful for us in giving them advice on how to make this a success," said Byrne. "Especially as this is the first of the SRV sites planned, we really hoped to help them because this can and should be a model for the rest of the city, if done appropriately."
She said the schools had planned to encourage student collaboration with the villagers with projects like community gardens or mural painting, but those plans can't go forward if they can't guarantee the safety of the kids. Byrne said the schools will have to reexamine their safety policies.
"Our schools are grounded in doing good work, helping people and fostering kids who are gong to go out and make the world a better place," said Heiliger. "We’ve opened our arms to the city, we’ve opened our arms to the village, to All Good Northwest. Our community stands here in support of the village under these certain conditions, but we’ve gotten straight no's the entire time."
Ryan said he'd be happy to meet with the stakeholder group again.
"Relationships move at the speed of trust. I am here to build that trust," he said.