PORTLAND, Ore. — After months of delays, Portland's first Safe Rest Village opened Friday along Southwest Naito Parkway at the south edge of downtown.
Like many of the Safe Rest Village sites, it faced controversy. Neighbors opposed it along the way and last week, a neighborhood group said it no longer supported the project after initially welcoming it.
The new location of the Queer Affinity Village, which was relocated from Southeast Water Avenue, prioritizes individuals who self-identify as LGBTQIA+ and are unhoused. The Safe Rest Village Project worked on this low-barrier site since the fall.
“This place has all the trees, and it's more privacy and it’s a beautiful space,” said Jake Dornblaser, who works with Safe Rest Village Project. “When you feel comfortable is the most likely chance for you to succeed and access resources."
The site's close proximity to two schools led stakeholders to raise concerns about a lack of background checks for residents living in the village.
“With having 600 children within 50 feet of a Safe Rest Village site, we want to make sure the village is safe for the villagers as well as our students,” said Bodo Heiliger, the head of the International School of Portland, which is right across the street from the village, and part of the 2300 SW Naito stakeholders group.
Two days ago, the city said they’d negotiate.
“We don’t always see eye to eye and agree about every single thing, but the important thing is that everybody continues to come to the table we continue to have conversations,” said Dornblaser.
“We’re cautiously optimistic. I think that’s what we’ve been saying all along — we see a desire to collaborate now and again. Cautiously optimistic,” said Heiliger.
Commissioner Dan Ryan’s office said in a statement: “We respect the diverse neighborhood stakeholders, school leaders, and the communities they serve, and we appreciate their willingness to engage in difficult conversations to help build this village into a model of success.”
“We definitely still have concerns,” said Heiliger.
The stakeholder group is asking for three things:
- Low-barrier background checks on the villagers to scan for major felony convictions
- A no-camping zone within 1,000 feet of the village
- An advisory board for each Safe Rest Village
So far, the request for an advisory board is the only one that's been approved.
“The other two we’re working through. We’ve gotten assurances from the city that the villagers moving in have already been good neighbors,” said Heiliger.
Village staff will be onsite 24/7 and case workers will help the villagers find more permanent housing within six to nine months of being there. As of Friday, the site has a waitlist of about 30 people.
“The idea is that we make it really easy for people to come through the door and then you can assess them. It doesn’t mean they aren’t held to expectations in the space,” said Dornblaser.
People interested in staying at the village should call 211 to make a self-referral.