Staff with Housing Commissioner Dan Ryan’s office confirmed to KGW Friday afternoon they would not be releasing locations for two of the villages before the weekend, an about-face on plans they had publicized just a week prior. Instead, she said, staff are aiming to announce three village locations at a press conference next Thursday.
When asked to explain the delay, communication strategist Margaux Weeke said in a statement Friday, “The majority of city-owned parcels we initially reviewed proved to be unsuitable locations for Safe Rest Villages and required us to expand our search to identify properties owned by other jurisdictions and private properties … Site evaluations, interjurisdictional relationship-building, business negotiations, and property agreements take time and we are actively in this phase of the work.”
This marks the latest in a series of stalls for the project, which aims to open six legal, organized camps for Portland’s homeless.
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.
In an interview earlier this month, 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 then.
He added staff want to hear from Portlanders, pointing people to a new email address aimed at gathering public input on the villages.
“We're asking them to write into email@example.com,” 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.”
Earlier this summer, staff said they were evaluating possible sites, looking at a list of roughly 70 city-owned sites. They later said they’ve expanded that search. This week, Metro officials confirmed the Portland Expo Center, which was not on the city's original list of potential sites, is now being considered.
“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 Project Communications Liaison Bryan Aptekar earlier this month. “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.”
While Portlanders wait for details, the optics of the city's housing crisis indicates more people than ever are living unsheltered on our streets. The last official count, conducted in 2019, showed 2,037 were living on the streets.
On Friday, Weeke said “We will announce the locations of three Safe Rest Villages before the end of September and the following three sites as soon as we can.”
Staff, Weeke added, built a website for the project, which went live Friday.
Editor's note: the video in the media player above is from Sept. 15, 2021