SW Responds to Homelessness Crisis

[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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