Metro Suggests Three Parcels at Expo Center for Safe Parking Site but Must Clear Advisory Commission First

City Commissioner Dan Ryan promises three “safe rest villages” by Labor Day.

Staff for the regional government Metro identified on April 12 three portions of the Expo Center parking lot that city officials could use as a safe parking site for houseless Portlanders.

Discussions between the city and Metro for a car camping site at the Expo Center fell apart late last year because the city wanted a paved lot but Metro would only offer a graveled one. At the time, Commissioner Dan Ryan, who’s spearheading the city’s building of six “safe rest villages,” said the estimated $1.5 million price tag to rehab the lot would be fiscally irresponsible.

Earlier this month, Metro President Lynn Peterson revealed to WW that the talks had been revived.

This time around, one of the three lots Metro could offer is paved; the other two are not.

Peterson, Ryan and City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, who oversees the Portland Bureau of Transportation, made a joint request on April 12 to the Metropolitan Exposition Recreation Commission, which must approve uses of the Expo Center, to greenlight moving forward with a safe parking site at one of the lots identified.

The commission will discuss it at their next meeting May 4.

The request from the three officials is to offer the site designation to the city for 18 to 21 months, or until the American Rescue Plan Act dollars the city is using to fund the sites are exhausted. Last week, Ryan told WW that if the villages prove to be successful by the time the $20 million in funds runs out in late 2024, that would provide reason to continue funding them.

One potential funding mechanism Ryan is eyeing? Metro’s homeless services tax approved by voters in 2020 that taxes high earners and companies making over $5 million annually.

“There’s plenty of money coming in from the voters,” says Ryan. “If we’re able to make the case that this is working, then there’s a big pot of money that can be directed towards this.”

Ryan promises three of the villages will be open by Sept. 5 of this year.

In an April 12 letter to the Expo Commission, the three elected officials wrote that there “remains an urgent need for more Safe Park programs around the region however, particularly in North Portland, where a significant population is already living in cars and RVs.”

In a statement shared with the commission, Hardesty wrote: “We are in an all-hands-on-deck emergency where we need everyone with the power to help to do so. You have the power today to do something.”

She also wrote that despite good work being done to address the homelessness crisis, there are “cynical attempts to criminalize those experiencing poverty that are gaining traction”—a likely nod to a recent ballot initiative proposed by political advocacy group People for Portland that attempts to reroute 75% of Metro’s 2020 homeless services measure dollars to emergency shelter.

Earlier this year, Mayor Ted Wheeler used his emergency powers to designate four safe rest village sites, including a parcel of PBOT land at 9827 NE Sunderland Ave. slated for an RV and car camping site. It’s expected to accommodate 60 vehicles.

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