Multnomah County and City of Portland Planning to Move Hazelnut Grove Homeless Village to St. Johns

Amid Portland's growing housing crisis, a controversial camp could be moving west.

St. Johns Bridge (Tony Webster / Flickr)

An empty lot in St. Johns is slated to become the newest site for an official homeless village. It could soon become a permanent site for Hazelnut Grove, which formed in 2015.

Overlook residents have repeatedly sought to push the camp out of their neighborhood and into a new location. In October 2017, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler declared that the camp had to move after communications between the camp organizers and Overlook neighborhood association broke down. No immediate action was taken, and the camp stayed.

The Overlook Neighborhood Association has been working closely with city and Multnomah County officials to find a new location for the camp. The new site in St. Johns can easily be hooked up to an existing sewer line, and should offer a sustainable new location for the village.

“We are hopeful that this time it’s going to happen,” said Chris Trejbal, chair of the Overlook Neighborhood Association. “We’ve been promised by two mayors now that it’s going to happen and it hasn’t. I’m optimistic that this time the move will actually take place.”

Multnomah County's Joint Office of Homeless Services hopes to have the lot—located on North Roberts Avenue, next to Harvest Homes Inc retirement village—ready by April 2019. It will likely house around 20 to 25 adults.

Trejbal says that conversations still need to take place about what will happen to the current Hazelnut Grove site after the move. It is currently unclear who will be paying for and doing the cleanup, as well as how to keep the site from becoming a new camp.

Denis Theriault, communications director for the Joint Office of Homeless Services, says the decision to use the St. Johns site has been made. But the county is still in talks with an organization to work with the village: Do Good Multnomah.

Do Good Multnomah is a non-profit that currently provides emergency shelter for 25 homeless veterans. They recently worked with Clackamas County to open a Veteran's Village in September.

The unauthorized homeless village, Hazelnut Grove, currently located on North Greeley near North Interstate, would need to agree to new rules including working closely with the nonprofit.

Immediate neighbors to the St. Johns lot have already been notified of the project, and Theriault says there is a lot of community support in St, Johns for these kinds of alternative-housing projects.

Theriault says the county intends the village to look a lot like the Kenton Women's village, with portable sleeping pods set up in an open space combined with other common area structures, such as a kitchen or showers.

In a letter sent to neighbors outlining the project, Marc Jolin, Joint Office of Homeless Services director, said the residents of the alternative shelter will have to abide by the same safety rules as a traditional shelter and are expected to be good neighbors.

"Our safe and successful experiences with Dignity Village, Right 2 Dream Too and the Kenton Women's Village (where the women built a float that won first place in the 2018 St. Johns Parade!) demonstrate how well an alternative shelter can be integrated into a community while helping their residents stabilize and transition into permanent housing,"  Jolin wrote in the letter.

The Guardian published an article earlier this year, which reported that crime rates actually go down after these alternative-housing villages are built:

"When Right 2 Dream Too moved in mid-2017 to its current home in Portland's commercial Lloyd Center neighborhood, crime went down 10%, versus a 7% citywide rise. Crime went up 28% in the neighborhood it vacated."

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