Outdoor Shelter Experiment to Open in Hosford/Abernethy

Gideon Street site as of the end of May. Left photo as seen looking south; right photo as seen looking west.

By Nancy Tannler

On July 1, the Gideon Street encampment located near SE Powell Blvd. and Milwaukie Ave. will open. This is one of several Safe Rest Villages the city is constructing to move illegal street campers to a place designed to help them progress toward permanent housing. Safe Rest Villages are funded by the American Rescue Plan to help Portland recover from the inordinate amount of homeless people here.

Hank Smith, Policy and Communications Advisor for Mayor Ted Wheeler, gave an update on how Gideon Street is proceeding at a recent Central Eastside Industrial Council (CEIC) meeting. This gave business owners and residents from the area another chance to voice their concerns and hopes about this approach to moving people off the streets.

Smith said there will be 140 pods and 20 covered tent platforms plus restrooms, showers and laundry facilities. The maximum number of residents is 200 and pets will be allowed.  

In order to keep people from just hanging out around the site, clients will need to be referred by city, county and community-based partners; they are still figuring out what the policy for this will be. It is a low barrier shelter so no criminal background checks are required, which makes it easy to get into. 

The city has signed a contract with Urban Alchemy, a company that began in San Francisco in 1997. The philosophy is that the answer to poverty and desperation can’t be addressed by the same approach that is used to tackle crime. 

Many of the employees have lived rough lives themselves and understand what is going on with individuals in the throes of a psychotic or emotional breakdowns. A frightening experience to encounter for most people, the employees of Urban Alchemy are trained to diffuse these situations, similar to Portland Street Response.

Urban Alchemy will be on site 24/7 to guarantee the maintenance, cleanliness and security of the site. There will be one guest coordinator per 15 residents and one care coordinator per 20 residents. There are rules that residents must follow–they must sign in and out; no visitors; zero tolerance for weapons; and no fires or cooking. There will be provisions for two meals and one snack a day.

The goal of the Safe Rest Villages is to develop health and housing plans for each client and create a next step to permanent housing and connection to a more stable life. Finding housing and jobs has become impossible for most of them on their own due to mental and physical health issues. The overriding strategy is to reduce camping on the streets.  

Smith said Safe Rest Villages are meant to be temporary housing with the hopes that a client will only need to stay for three months to a year. But there is no time limit. The Villages are an experiment and the city is looking at a three-year trial period.

How Gideon Street will impact the surrounding Hosford/Abernethy, Brooklyn and Central Eastside communities was discussed at the meeting. Smith said the city is working with these communities to draft a Good Neighbor Agreement with specific commitments. These include no camping within a 1,000 ft. perimeter and possibly beyond; prioritized response from the Impact Reduction Program (campsite removal and cleanup); dedicated outreach worker to patrol the area daily; and a “Problem Solver” group to alert neighbors if anything comes up.

Since the Gideon Street encampment is on a Safe Routes to Schools path as well as an off street path for cyclists, the hope is that these precautions will keep the area safe for pedestrians, too.

Residents and businesses in the neighborhoods surrounding Gideon Street expressed concern that this will lower property values. There was discussion about compensation such as lowering property taxes. This is a matter the Board of Equalization or Multnomah County Property Tax Appeal Process would need to decide. 

When the doors open at Gideon Street and other Safe Rest Villages throughout Portland, the clients living there and the residents of the neighborhoods will begin a cultural experiment. Whether it will be successful depends upon how cooperative all those involved can be.

Once Gideon Street is up and running there will be a phone number activated that people can call with concerns. For more information, visit bit.ly/PDXSafeRestVillages.

Photos by Kris McDowell.

Outdoor Shelter Experiment to Open in Hosford/Abernethy

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