The Time Is Now

Support local, independent reporting.

Help the city we love by joining Friends of Willamette Week.


Protesters Face Off Along a Portland Road, With Very Different Views on Whether a Homeless Shelter Is Welcome in Their Backyard

A former mayoral candidate is frustrated. “If we have to come up with a protest like this every time we propose a homeless shelter, it’s a terrible waste of our time.”


A half-dozen downtown Portland marches and rallies against President Donald Trump captured much of the media attention this weekend.

But on the other side of town, 61 blocks east of the Willamette River, another protest on Saturday showed rifts in the city's display of unity. Two groups stood on each side of Southeast Foster Road, waving signs with opposite views of a homeless shelter in a former grocery.

Over the past month, the Mount Scott, Foster-Powell and Lents neighborhoods have been rent by angry debate over the 24-hour shelter, which could be used by 100 people each night.

The Lents Neighborhood Livability Association originally had planned a protest against the shelter to be held outside of the shelter site. Though at the last minute the organizers cancelled the event, roughly 40 people showed up anyway.

Counter-protesters gathered about 60 people, led by activist and former mayoral candidate Sarah Iannarone, who supported the shelter, waiving signs including "Won't You Be My Neighbor" and "Action with Compassion."

"This is in my neighborhood," said Ben Chatterton, who lives in the neighborhood, and heard about the counter-protest through his Democratic Socialists of America chapter. "I felt like this is my responsibility to come out. If a 120-bed shelter is on the table, then I am going to go support a 120-bed shelter. That is 120 people that can sleep in a warm place and not on a park bench."

About 15 people were out to demonstrate the shelter. They argued that the didn't have a problem with the shelter itself, but with the process used by Portland City Hall and Multnomah County to pick the site.

Jeff Miller, a contractor, questioned the amount of space that the shelter users would have.

"You have what I think is about 10,000 square feet, with 120 people along with showers and laundry. They are going to be lined up in there side by side like sardines," he said while shaking his head. "If they are going to put it in here, it needs to be bigger."

Iannarone expressed frustration with the terms of the debate.

"We need more shelters here, and if we have to come up with a protest like this every time we propose a homeless shelter, it's a terrible waste of our time," Iannarone said. "We really should be using our time to brainstorm and come up with hacks and community meetings to make our shelters really effective and get people into permanent housing."