In the second half of 2022, Multnomah County purchased two automotive sales lots in Montavilla along SE 82nd Avenue. At least one location will become an outdoor alternative shelter serving houseless Portlanders next year. The Joint Office of Homeless Services (JOHS) is currently selecting a service provider to offer continuous on-site support for the residents. County staff anticipates a summer 2023 opening for the first location near SE Stark Street. The second location near Harrison Park is in an early pre-planning phase and currently leased to a recreational vehicle (RV) sales company.
In August 2022, Multnomah County purchased the former RV sales lot at 333 SE 82nd Avenue and posted a Notice of Funding Availability (NOFA) on November 2nd. In response to the NOFA, organizations interested in managing the shelter submitted applications ahead of the November 21st deadline, and the County is actively reviewing those proposals. JOHS staff have yet to determine the type of alternative outdoor shelter planned for 333 SE 82nd Avenue. The site could support either a safe park site for non-RV passenger vehicles or a village-style shelter with small freestanding shed-style Pallet shelters.
Residents are pre-selected for both types of alternative shelters. These sites will not support drop-in services, and site operators will discourage unsanctioned camping around the property. County staff point to another JOHS-funded shelter in the neighborhood as an example of what they intend to create at this site. Beacon Village opened its 10-pod village to residents earlier this year near NE Glisan Street and has successfully housed a small group of formerly unhoused people within a church parking lot.
The second County-owned site is located less than a mile south of 333 SE 82nd Avenue at 1818 SE 82nd Avenue. The corner lot has access to SE Mill Street and is a block away from Harrison Park. Currently, the County is leasing the property back to its former owner. Recently acquired in December 2022, JOHS has yet to determine this site’s ultimate use, and Multnomah County staff cannot say when planning for this site will begin.
Outdoor alternative shelters are most commonly associated with a City lead collaboration between Portland and JOHS known as Safe Rest Villages. However, both County-owned sites are not being developed as part of that program. Jenka Soderberg, the program communications coordinator for JOHS, explained the primary difference between the two programs. “The Safe Rest Villages program was created apart from existing shelter efforts, with the City funding construction, though it does work with the Joint Office around contracting and other support.” These sites on SE 82nd Avenue will join the County’s existing alternative shelter program that began five years ago. “The Joint Office already funds and operates other alternative shelter sites and has done so since the Kenton Women’s Village first opened in 2017. Other shelters in that category include St. Johns Village, Beacon Village PDX, and WeShine’s Parkrose Village.” Said Soderberg.
The vacant half-block property near historic downtown Montavilla received new black chain-link fencing around its perimeter this December, supplanting the construction fencing that has protected the site since its sale. Over the next few months, construction crews will upgrade facilities at the site, creating resident amenities that include personal property storage, trash service, showers, restrooms, laundry, kitchen space, and social services.
The County considers 333 SE 82nd Avenue temporary accommodations. With people staying only as long as it takes to transition into permanent housing or permanent supportive housing programs. However, according to Soderberg, the site will remain a temporary shelter location for the foreseeable future. “The plan is to operate a long-term shelter at the site, but like all programs, budgets must be approved by the County Board and City Council annually, and we would always want to ensure we’re able to evaluate the success of the program.”
During the first half of 2023, program staff will coordinate meetings, working with neighbors and area businesses to create a Good Neighbor Agreement. Through alternative shelters like the ones proposed for Montavilla, the County intends to initiate positive changes for villagers and neighbors currently experiencing unsanctioned camping. By creating a safe sleeping space for people experiencing unsheltered homelessness, program managers hope to build an environment that allows villagers to be part of the surrounding neighborhood. Employees will professionally manage the site at all hours of every day. People working with residents will provide support to address basic needs, including hygiene services, case management, and housing navigation. Residents will receive access to treatment for unmet behavioral health needs.
Neighbors within a half-mile radius of the site should receive a postcard in the mail informing them about this planned site use. JOHS will update the community when they decide on a program model and contract with a shelter operator. The village could open and accept participants as soon as workers complete construction. Still, that timeline depends on the shelter style selection and how soon site management can prepare staff. JOHS will provide updates to community organizations as those milestones come closer.
Disclosure: The author of this article serves on the boards of the Montavilla/East Tabor Business Association, 82nd Avenue Business Association, and Montavilla Neighborhood Association. During that work, he drafted the Good Neighbor Agreement with Beacon Village and will likely participate in future community outreach for these Multnomah County initiatives.
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