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Portland’s Safe Rest Village for RVs is still not filled. We went to find out why

The Sunderland RV Safe Park opened two months ago in Northeast Portland. It’s not yet half full. The site operators point to unanticipated challenges.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Homeless people living in RVs have become a growing problem in parts of Portland. About two months ago, the city’s Safe Rest Village team opened what they believe to be part of a solution, the Sunderland RV Safe Park in Northeast. It’s a Safe Rest Village meant for people living in vehicles.

The Salvation Army runs it and so far, 25 vehicles have moved in. There’s room for a total of 55. More than 80 people have qualified but it comes down to them being ready.

“We want to be full and we’ve had more than enough referrals from the Portland Bureau of Transportation and the city outreach teams the challenge is getting people to pack up their personal belongings to get their unit prepared to be towed in,” said Major Bob Lloyd with the Salvation Army. He says there have been cases where crews go to someone’s RV five times and the homeless people still aren’t ready to move in. “Unfortunately, a lot of folks just struggle following through in commitment,” he said.

Another challenge, and one the Salvation Army didn’t anticipate was how hard it was going to be to create a structured community inside the site. When there’s already a strong community one street over on Northeast 33rd Drive and in that community, there are no rules, which Major Lloyd says is impacting people inside the site. 

"So far, we’ve had some drugs show up, but we have not had any serious issues of people creating a danger to others," he said.

Credit: Blair Best, KGW

RELATED: Portland homeless RV park set to open soon

KGW is told PBOT has been moving people and their RVs to 33rd Drive while they wait to move into the site.

“It was a young man who came to us and let us know that the program was available in July,” said Ann who lives in the site.

Earlier this summer PBOT moved her to Northeast 33rd Drive where she stayed for two weeks before they told her she could move into the park. It was then up to her to get there since her RV didn’t run.

“A lot of us had problems getting towed over… It’s frustrating because you have to be on the hunt for somebody that can help you,” Ann said about finding a way to tow her RV to the site. Despite that, she is one of the lucky ones. 

“No one will talk about how to get in,” said James Black who’s been trying to move into the site for weeks.

“It’s like a closely guarded secret. I think it’s absolutely ridiculous,” he said.

RELATED: 'I call it jail': How those living in RVs feel about entering Portland's first RV park

Credit: City of Portland
The Sunderland RV Safe Park has the capacity to hold 55 vehicles. It is Portland's only Safe Rest Village serving people living in their RVs.

Through a referral process, the Portland Bureau of Transportation and city outreach crews pick which RV’s are allowed to move in.

“You have to just have to happen to come upon one of the community outreach workers that they use to refer people to this park there’s no way to get in touch with them,” he said.

KGW reached out to PBOT asking about the details of their referrals process. They send our request to the city’s Safe Rest Village team. They said in a statement:

“The Salvation Army connects with the Street Services Coordination Center to let them know the available spots for referral each week. The primary referring partner has been the City of Portland’s Vehicle Inspection Program as they interact with people living in cars often, but they are not the only referral partner under the Street Services Coordination Center. There are sometimes challenges with people getting to the shelter, such as their work schedule, which means that sometimes the intake is scheduled days out. Another barrier that is often experienced is that an RV is not operable, in which the Vehicle Inspection Program will work with them on scheduling a time for the RV to be towed.”

On Tuesday, Black showed up to the site in person, hoping for a referral. Instead, he was given a piece of paper with PBOT’s phone number. “It’s just been really frustrating. It’s extremely frustrating…there are resources supposedly available but seemingly inaccessible.”

The Salvation Army tells KGW they don’t know when the site will be filled. Again, it’s not for a lack of referrals. They say the barrier is the homeless people they refer not being ready to move in and there’s just no timeline for that.

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