Update: SW Responds to Homelessness Crisis

[Posted December 17, 2021; updated January 28, 2022]


UPDATE

On January 11th, the City of Portland's Impact Reduction Team removed piles of trash from the vacated camp west side of Bertha Blvd. under the viaduct. After many months of continued use as an unsanctioned homeless camp, the site was vacated by the previous inhabitants.


The land on either side of Bertha Blvd. as it passes under the viaduct falls under the jurisdiction of the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT). In response to an email inquiry, a PBOT spokesperson said that there are no plans to limit or discourage future camping at the site.


A camp on the east side of Bertha Blvd. has grown over the past several months to include multiple tents and vehicles. The portable toilet earlier provided by the Hillsdale Assistance Team (HAT) remains on the east side.


Community opinion on the topic of HAT's efforts, as measured by posts on Nextdoor Hillsdale, is divided: does providing a toilet and periodic garbage collection constitute "enabling" residents to continue to live at this site, or do these services help mitigate the impacts of unsanctioned camping on nearby residents and businesses? Opinions may differ, but clearly managing the human waste issue is important for all concerned.


For more information or to connect with HAT, click here.


In the meantime, plans are still underway to establish a Safe Rest Village in the parking lot of the Sears Armory in the Multnomah neighborhood. At a community meeting held by the Multnomah Neighborhood Association with Commissioner Dan Ryan and his staff on January 27, Ryan clarified that the final decision to create a shelter at the site is not subject to neighborhood approval. The purpose of community outreach, staffers said in the meeting, is to engage "the community in what it (the village) will look like and not whether the site will move ahead."


Stakeholders, including the adjacent West Hills Christian School and the Multnomah Neighborhood Association, have begun discussions with Ryan's office to craft a "good neighbor agreement" to address local concerns over potential negative impacts of the village.


No opening date has been announced, although "early 2022" is still the goal. The project is awaiting final approval of use permits and a contract with a service provider who will administer the camp. Helping Hands Reentry Outreach Centers and its founder and CEO Alan Evans were introduced at the meeting as a potential partner to operate the site. The 501(c)(3) nonprofit operates 11 facilities in five Oregon counties, including Bybee Lakes Hope Center at the former, never-opened Wapato jail.


While city representatives did not have concrete answers to many neighborhood concerns, Ryan emphasized that homelessness has become a tremendous problem for everyone in Portland, adding that "we [city commissioners] consistently hear from residents—do something that isn't enabling and that is responsive to this crisis." He and his staff describe the SRVs as a new strategy with important improvements on previous homelessness responses. They say that conditions are primed, with an infusion of federal money and pandemic effects ebbing, to finally make headway on this seemingly intractable problem.


Check the Multnomah Neighborhood Association website for a recording of the January 27 Zoom meeting,

 

December 17, 2021


While the Hillsdale Assistance Team works to address needs related to homelessness in Hillsdale, the city of Portland has announced plans to build a Safe Rest Village at the Sears Army Reserve Center at 2730 SW Multnomah Blvd.

On Nov. 22, Portland City Commissioner Dan Ryan announced the selection of the Sears site as one of six planned Safe Rest Villages (SRVs), each providing temporary shelter for 40-60 people. Funded by the American Rescue Plan Act, the Safe Rest Villages will provide a safe place for homeless individuals to sleep and secure their belongings while they receive services to help them transition to permanent housing. Residents are expected to transition out of SRVs in 3 to 6 months.


Formed in Feb. 2020, the Hillsdale Assistance Team (HAT) has conducted outreach to several homeless camps in and near Hillsdale. HAT provided a portable toilet and dumpster to a camp at the Bertha Blvd. viaduct in Hillsdale, cleaned up a few tons of trash there, and painted over graffiti multiple times. HAT members are residents, faith leaders and business owners. Their goal is "to help create sufficient housing so encampments in common spaces are no longer needed and are removed." Learn more about HAT here.

Upcoming HAT projects include continuing to build relationships with campers in less visible areas, such as forested areas off of SW Barbur Blvd, and conducting listening sessions with housed residents to listen to concerns and discuss possible solutions. A "listening table" is planned for Saturday, Dec. 18, from noon-2pm in front of the Hillsdale Basics Market.


Also on the agenda is figuring out how HAT might work with the city to support the Safe Rest Village concept.


Safe Rest Village Planned for Multnomah Village

The Sears site, as currently planned, will include 40 heated sleeping pods erected in the parking lot, a common food prep area, electricity, water, Wi-Fi, garbage and recycling, showers and laundry facilities, and flush toilets. Residents may bring their belongings, pets and partners. Some SRVs will provide parking. Residents will have access to resources such as social, mental health, and addiction services that will help them become "housing ready."

SRVs will be "low barrier," meaning the only requirements are that residents be at least 18 years old and homeless, with no requirement for sobriety. However, in order to be eligible for temporary shelter in a village, homeless individuals may only be referred by first responders who interact with people in camps: Portland Street Response, the city's navigation teams (outreach staffers who visit camps help people living there access resources), other social services, and park rangers.


Services offered at the villages will be limited to village residents, which the city hopes will allay neighbors' concerns that the shelters will attract additional encampments of people seeking shelter or services.


As recently as October, city officials pledged that SRVs would be up and running by the end of 2021. Three sites have now been announced, including the Sears site, but no significant development has yet occurred and SRV staff now say the shelters will open as soon as possible, but likely not before early spring of 2022.

Hillsdale Camp Clean-Up

As of this writing, the camp on the west side of Bertha Blvd appears to be vacant (the east side is occupied).


Emails recently received by the Hillsdale News from the city confirm that the Bertha Blvd site has been reported and is in the queue to be posted for clean-up. The email includes these additional details: "The Impact Reduction Program has visited this site 23 times since February 2021. The last time we were at this site was November 17. We’ve received 148 reports since February 2021 about this particular site. For comparison, we received a total of 5,318 reports during this same timeframe for Laurelhurst Park."


The email continues, "Under our revised COVID protocol, the assessment scores for this site have not met the “high risk” threshold—but it is still on our radar to be removed once time and resources allow. Again, we have to prioritize all of the encampments in city limits, and there are over 100 sites right now that pose a greater health and safety risk than this particular site."


HAT is exploring options for cleaning up the mounds of debris left by the previous occupants. Will the city clean it up anytime soon? Should HAT volunteers tackle the site, which most likely harbors hazardous materials consisting of human waste and used needles? And what's to stop new campers from moving in once the site has been cleaned up?


Until the site is cleaned up, residents can continue to report the camp at PDX Reporter or by calling 311 (reporting more than once a week doesn't speed things up, according to a city staffer).


--Valeurie Friedman

 

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