By Nancy Tannler
The proposed Reedway Safe Rest Village is an unpopular plan for a group of Lents residents. The Safe Rest Village approach (bit.ly/SafeRestVillages) is a city-led, federally-funded, alternative outdoor shelter model that is paired with wraparound mental and behavioral health services. The intention is to help transition the people living there into permanent housing within six to nine months.
The zoning code for this type of outdoor village was changed when Portland City Council unanimously passed the Shelter to Housing Continuum in April 2021.
There are six Safe Rest Village sites throughout Portland. In February, Commissioner Dan Ryan and staff from the city and county designated the last two sites, one is the 10600 SE Reedway St.
Lents Neighborhood Livability Association (LNLA) Treasurer/Secretary, Char Pennie explained how the community would be adversely affected by this particular outdoor homeless shelter scheduled for their neighborhood. Pennie said that back in 2016 the city began clearing up the toxic soil on the 130,000 sq. ft. property. At the time, there were also exploratory meetings with the public to consider the viability of using this property for some type of homeless encampment. The conclusion at the time was that it wasn’t a good location.
One of the more obvious reasons being that there was an estimated 800-1,000 homeless already living in Lents and along what was referred to as the “Avenue of Terror” on the Springwater Trail.
The LNLA put out a survey online asking neighbors what they thought about the idea of a Safe Rest Village. “We had 5,700 responses citywide but very few from the close neighbors who will be most affected by a homeless encampment,” Pennie said. “Lents is one of the most diverse neighborhood in the state. There are a lot of young families living here, as well as new immigrants and people of color who are living paycheck to paycheck, with little time or resources to get involved.”
Many of the responses to the survey accused the LNLA of being NIMBY’s (not in my back yard) and hating the homeless, but Pennie explains this is not the reason they object to the Safe Rest Village. “It is our understanding that each of the six locations will serve a certain clientele,” Pennie said. An example is the Queer Affinity Village, a site focusing on the BIPOC community.
The fear in Lents is that the Reedway Safe Rest Village will house the service-resistant people–those for whom living on the streets is a way of life. Bryan Aptekar, Communications Liaison for the Safe Rest Village team, said that many people experiencing houselessness want to have the services offered (medical, mental health, addiction and case management) and will only be here by choice.
“Our community feels that we are already bearing a large portion of the city’s homeless,” Pennie said. As stated in a letter to Commissioner Ryan’s office, “you are locating the camp in a poor BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color) neighborhood, you did not use a racial equity lens…thus violating your published, democratically adopted equity guidelines.”
Another concern for this location is that it backs up to Beggars Tick Wildlife Refuge, a sensitive wetland environment that is seldom used. The area became a homeless camp until recently when the police did a sweep of the park. Already campers are pitching their tents again.
LNLA member Keith Wilson gave a presentation to the group about his travels to Amsterdam and his interviews with their homeless advocates. They have been successful in resolving their enormous homeless issue by using the Housing First policy, which is guided by the belief that people need basic necessities like food and a place to live before attending to their other problems. Portland has used this model to develop programs like Safe Rest Villages.
Pennie said the LNLA is in favor of the Safe Rest Village triage program in theory. They want to be part of the solution to end homelessness but their community has been carrying the weight of Portland’s un-housed and feel like they deserve a break from all the responsibility.
Homelessness has been an issue for decades, in part due to cuts in low-income housing subsidies like Section 8. In 1980 the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) federal subsidies accounted for 22 percent of the budgets of large cities like Portland. By the end of the 80s it was only six percent, an era where homeless in America increased dramatically.
In Portland and other west coast cities, it is estimated that up to 90 percent of homeless individuals come from outside the state or county where they are currently living. The problem they are attempting to solve locally is a problem that was once a national problem.