Two weeks ago, 30-year-old Mia Winters boarded a chartered bus with other residents of the Queer Affinity Village on the eastside and rode to their new home: a tiny pod village along Southwest Naito Parkway, shaded by big trees.
The village was still being set up when villagers arrived. But Winters likes the new location better: “We’re not under the bridge, so we’re no longer a zoo for people to stare at.”
But Winters, who is nonbinary, is troubled by what they’ve read about neighborhood reaction to the arrival of houseless people, many of whom identify as LGBTQ+. “I don’t think there has ever been so much pushback,” says Winters. “This is a gross new thing.”
For eight months, Queer Affinity residents knew they’d be moved to the other side of the river. But recently, they became the subject of an intense discussion between the neighborhood and the city over what impact the villagers would have on the new location.
Last month, the heads of two schools across from the village withdrew their support, citing the city’s unwillingness to require felony background checks and implement a 1,000-foot no camping barrier around the village. Commissioner Dan Ryan, who’s spearheading the villages but has met fierce pushback, implied the neighborhood’s rejection was rooted in homophobia. (The neighborhood strongly rejected that characterization.)
“They equated us with perverts. They were like, ‘We want background checks for sex criminals,’” Winters says. “They don’t even know us. It’s so frustrating.”
Winters grew up in Arkansas. After working different jobs in Reno, Nev., they moved to Portland with a friend to trim cannabis in 2017. When the friends they came to trim weed with decided to move away from Portland, Winters found themself without a home or a job. Winters first slept outside in December 2017 and has been mostly houseless since.
Winters creates mixed-media art. One piece comprises two pieces of painted plywood, with a colorful skeleton on one board attached to the other. Until recently, Winters worked at a gas station near the old village. Winters plans to apply for a job at the Franz Bakery, but hopes they don’t get stuck on the night shift. They’re in a training program to become a peer support specialist and intend to take the state certification test by the end of the summer.
Winters says one of the schools offered to provide gift baskets to each villager. “No request was too big,” Winters says of the school’s offer.
Winter asked for a space whip, a cord filled with LED fiber-optic lights. The glow-in-the-dark accessory is popular at raves. “You whip it around like a flowtoy,” Winters says.
No gift baskets have been delivered yet.