By Midge Pierce
Hate was a no-show at a recent rally expected to bring out angry protesters over a proposed Foster Rd. homeless shelter.
On a Saturday in which Portland was filled with scattered, demonstrations with a variety of issues, homeless activists engaged in mostly civil discourse with Foster-Powell neighbors concerned about safety and location of the facility.
The Joint Office of Homeless Services has since approved the 120 bed shelter. Despite opposition and reservations about siting the facility across from Mt. Scott Learning Center and near a daycare facility, a spokesperson said the shelter would prioritize, but not be exclusive to, women, veterans and the disabled.
The homeless office that signs the $13,000+ lease per month is a function of both Portland and Multnomah County. It was established in 2016 to address the homeless housing crisis.
The lack of guarantee for a families-only shelter has residents concerned that the facility will be “low barrier” – disallowing drug use inside, but not monitoring drug use or providing safeguards outside the facility.
Business owners are concerned it will have a negative impact on their establishments, many of which have invested in costly improvements.
The Homeless Services office says County Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson, a local resident, will lead a steering committee of neighbors and stakeholders to discuss the population it serves and help shape shelter programming. Information about the model and outreach process can be found online at ahomeforeveryone.net/foster.
Like so much of January’s protest weekend, passions ran the gamut. Progressive activist Sarah Iannarone defended the Foster facility citing 4000 Portland homeless and 10-20,000 who are housing insecure. “We need hundreds of shelters, tiny house villages and other options.”
“Rich neighborhoods like Ladds should shoulder the burden,” added another. “But they have political clout.”
“I’m pro-shelter,” said a bystander, “But it has to be done in a positive way.” Drug screening is essential according to several neighbors.
“The nearest police station is four miles away,” said a young single. “I feel safe walking the streets now, but I won’t feel safe with a low barrier shelter.”
A pro-shelter advocate expressed willingness to welcome the shelter if the city steps up to do its part. “The homeless are being run out of the core City and coming to the Eastside, but first, the Eastside needs more support to care for homeless.”
The Joint City County office contends the location is close to public transportation as well as a worksource center, a community center and Portland Community College.
It acknowledges, however, that it lacks a concentration of facility-based social services. The website claims there will be no tolerance for criminal behavior at or near the shelter.
Almost everyone expressed frustration with what they termed “stealth” processes.
Officials failed to reach out to the school or neighbors in a timely manner, according to Steve DeLoe. Standing to the side of the larger advocacy group, he claimed the location is inappropriate for its planned use.
As divergent demonstrations throughout town rallied to impeach the president, support the Me Too Movement or advocate for indigenous people, activists seemed irate that protesters they consider haters and NIMBYs were not around to confront.
“This is a waste of energy,” said Iannarone. “We must be inclusive. Let Foster in on this, but don’t lose this shelter. “Housing needs to be everywhere.”
“All people deserve shelter. Housing is not just for the rich,” said a neighbor.
“What we really want is dialogue with the City,” chimed in another.
“We brought love here today, not hate.”