Pamplin Media Group – Residents react to Safe Rest Village by Portland Park project
Commissioner Dan Ryan will have to convince the Portland Public School Board to approve the use of the former Whitaker Middle School site.
Neighbors welcome a proposal to turn part of a local green space into a homeless village, but the city’s plan is still far from reality.
If approved, the proposal would transform a 2-acre strip of vacant lot along NE 42nd Avenue near Killingsworth Street in the Concordia district of the city’s third Safe Rest Village, with room for 60 residents living in housing, according to documents uncovered for the first time by The Oregonian.
The grassy terrain abuts the Fernhill Park running track, sports field and sloping terrain, but is technically owned by Portland Public Schools, which demolished the building formerly known as Whitaker Middle School and Adams High School on site in 2007, due to the risk of mold and radon.
Out for a walk with his blue-heeled dog Huxley, local resident Mason Strehl said he had moved to the area this month but had already noticed the humanitarian crisis stemming from Portland’s homeless community. It’s all for the proposal.
“Building these kind of small communities or pods to house people, at low cost or for free, is a great way to go,” he said on Saturday, October 30. “This side of the park doesn’t really have too much going on.”
Another dog walker, Lorena JW, pointed out how Portland moved its historically black neighborhoods – leaving behind a culture of NIMBYism, an acronym meaning “not in my garden.”
âResearch shows that the absolute best way to get people on a better path, to longer term positive results, is to put them in housing,â JW said. “We have a huge problem with people who are upset that the homeless live in their community, when they are also our community. They are our neighbors.”
Matt Kieselhorst, however, said he was concerned the proposal would attract more trash, needles, abandoned cars and crime to the area.
âPortland has become an attractive destination for the homeless, and it has become a problem of our own design,â he said. “Believe me when I say this neighborhood will not be willing participants in this bad idea.”
The decision rests with the Portland Public School Board; and two members, Julia Brim-Edwards and Amy Kohnstamm, both expressed measured skepticism in an interview with KGW.
“We are actively reviewing the proposal and will provide information and analysis to the Board of Education, which has the power to decide on any future real estate transaction with the city,” Chief of Staff Jonathan Garcia said in an email to Pamplin Media. “The PPS Education Council has not made a decision.”
To complicate matters, board member Gary Hollands and Albina Sports Program unveiled its own proposal for a sports-focused community center at the Whitaker site, 5700 NE Cesar Chavez Blvd.
The idea would build a world-class, three-tier sports complex featuring a massive wooden stadium, a 300-meter indoor running track, flexible field spaces and underground parking, according to their website. Renderings show a green eco-roof, solar panels, a new access road dubbed Phil Walden Lane, and sparkling retail storefronts along 42nd Avenue. The landscaping would include a 400-yard track, four baseball diamonds and a 1-mile cross-country trail, according to the website.
School employees have their own separate plan to create a regional sports facility on the grounds. Neither plan has defined the details of the financing.
On October 28, city commissioner Dan Ryan told the Multnomah County Commission that two previously announced Safe Rest Village locations – the TriMet Park & ââRide near 122nd Avenue and East Burnside Street, and on Southwest Naito Parkway – remain in the âneighborhood engagementâ phase. .
The hoarse-voice commissioner said he had been working on the phones since 7 a.m. to try and confirm the final locations for the project.
âEveryone starts the conversation by saying how necessary it is,â Ryan said. âThen there are challenges when you get really close to how, in fact, you can support each other as a jurisdiction. And that’s understandable.â
One of Ryan’s employees, Chariti Li Montez, pointed out that the project will actually build seven villages, including four new sites and a fifth village to relocate the existing Queer Affinity community.
The villages are designed to act as âlow barrierâ shelters with dormitories open to partners, pets and personal effects, and managed by an on-site service provider. Kitchen, laundry, shower, toilet, garbage and vector control services will be provided.
Case management services will prepare villagers for the next step, “whether it’s entering recovery, reconnecting with family or accessing permanent supportive housing,” Montez added.
Commissioner Lori Stegmann asked how Ryan’s office determined the limit of 60 people for village size and discussed whether the plan should prioritize building villages in densely populated areas, such as the old town, in order to facilitate the operations of local traders.
âSixty kept coming across as the tipping point, if you will,â Ryan said, noting that zoning was another factor in the decision. “The geographic distribution (of villages) is important because homeless people build a community in the neighborhoods where they are located.”
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