Helping Hands Withdraws From Discussions to Run Safe Rest Village in Southwest Portland

It was just one month ago that the nonprofit and the city said it was likely to be the site manager at one of the villages.

In late January, Helping Hands, the nonprofit that also runs the Bybee Lakes Hope Center at the former Wapato Jail, said it was likely going to be the site operator of the safe rest village in Southwest Portland located at the Jerome F. Sears Army Reserve Center.

Now one month later, that deal is kaput.

CEO of Helping Hands Alan Evans told Ryan’s office and the county in a Feb. 28 letter that the decision was based on the type of people that would be brought to the villages.

“It is with regret that we must inform everybody involved with the Safe Rest Villages Initiative that we will not be able to be a part of this partnership,” Evans wrote. “While we are eager to be a part of the solution to providing shelter and homes for those who are facing homelessness, there are key components of the Safe Rest Ordinance and the contract that conflict with our organization’s mission and philosophy.”

Evans described his concern that the city would be relocating people from what the city deems “high-impact camps” to the villages in his letter, which was obtained by WW.

“Part of the program is the acceptance of residents from ‘high-impact’ encampment, which is defined in the ordinance as including but not limited to: ‘evidence of drug use, paraphernalia, or improperly disposed of syringes...verified reports of violence or criminal activity other than camping’. In the contract for all SHS Suppliers for the Safe Rest Villages Initiative, it specifies that ‘Contractor shall design services to support the community’s commitment to Housing First,’” Evans wrote. “Housing First recognizes that everyone is ‘ready’ to return to permanent housing’. We are concerned these two policies combined would leave us unable to implement care effectively.”

In short: The city is asking Helping Hands and other operators to deliver services that are appropriate for people who are ready for permanent housing. But those services the city is requesting, Evans seems to express, aren’t enough to serve people from “high impact camps” who might need more intense wraparound services and care.

Evans told KOIN 6 News yesterday that he couldn’t guarantee the safety of neighbors “without proper conditions and rules in place.”

Margaux Weeke, a spokeswoman for Commissioner Dan Ryan, who’s spearheading the villages project, confirmed that Helping Hands had withdrawn its interest.

“I am disappointed that Helping Hands is declining to move forward with our potential Safe Rest Village partnership,” Ryan said. “The emergency ordinance Helping Hands referenced in their letter would not prevent their organization from managing the Sears Armory Safe Rest Village according to their mission. I recruited Helping Hands for the Safe Rest Village initiative because I need support to disrupt the status quo approach toward houselessness in Portland. We need trauma-informed care, we need to prioritize harm reduction, and we need low barrier models, which is the game plan I’ve inherited.”

Ryan expressed hope that discussions would revive: “I believe we could have come to an agreement for the Sears Armory Safe Rest Village—with compromises on both ends—and I hope Helping Hands will come back to the table. Meanwhile, I will keep building bridges to include new options of service for Portlanders experiencing the many complications related to houselessness.”

The Multnomah Neighborhood Association, which fought the village and voted by a slim margin to redirect funding for the village to Bybee Lakes in January, but which recently agreed to work on a Good Neighbor Agreement with the operator and other stakeholders, expressed disappointment in a statement: “We felt they would have been an ideal operator for this site given their co-equal commitment to the safety and well being of shelter residents, adjacent property owners and our neighbors in the community.”

Ryan started looking for sites and operators last spring for all six of the planned villages. Just last week, he announced three additional sites for villages, including one safe parking site.

Two village operators have been chosen so far: All Good Northwest will run the relocated Queer Affinity Village along Southwest Naito Parkway, and Cultivate Initiatives will run the village at the Menlo Park Park & Ride lot in Southeast Portland.

Ryan’s office has struggled to solidify both sites and operators for the villages.

Evans did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

This article was published with support from the Jackson Foundation, whose mission is: “To promote the welfare of the public of the City of Portland or the State of Oregon, or both.”