Downtown School Administrators Renegotiate With Portland City Hall Over Safe Rest Village

Last week, a certain sourness took hold between the city and the downtown group over the tiny pod village moving in along Naito Parkway.

Last week, a group of downtown Portland stakeholders led by the administrators of two schools rebuked the city for its plan to place a tiny pod village along Southwest Naito Parkway.

The patch of land in question will serve as the relocation spot for the Queer Affinity Village that was displaced by development from the inner eastside earlier this year. Residents move in on Friday.

Bodo Heiliger, head of the International School, and Beven Brynes, principal of Bridges Middle School, announced last week they could not support the village unless the city met three criteria: felony screenings for residents, a 1000-foot camping ban around the pod village, and an advisory group that could regularly communicate with the city about concerns. They relayed that the city had firmly rebuffed all three requests that week.

But it appears this week the city and the stakeholder group are back at the negotiating table to discuss what concessions could be made. In a statement today, the group said it was “cautiously optimistic” that its three requirements will be heard by the city.

The city’s willingness to meet with neighbors about the villages is somewhat surprising: Over the past six months, City Commissioner Dan Ryan has made it clear on several occasions that neighborhood pushback will not stop the villages from opening up.

One reason he might be coming back to the table is that the backlash appears to be spreading across the city. The downtown group has been working for the past month with nine other neighborhood associations and four local groups in close proximity to proposed villages to come up with a shared template for a “good neighbor agreement” to present to the Joint Office of Homeless Services, which is choosing organizations to manage each village. All the other neighborhood associations have unofficially agreed to the same three demands, Heiliger said.

So Ryan is not just up against one angry neighborhood; he’s up against 10.

“The overarching message is, they’re hearing us and jumping into action,” Byrnes says.

Byrnes relayed to WW that the city is discussing creating a “safety plan” in coordination with the Portland Police Bureau to help monitor activity around the village. It’s unclear exactly what the Police Bureau’s role would be.

While the city has not pledged felony conviction screenings, Byrnes says they appear to be up for discussion again. A statement on Thursday afternoon by the city said it is intent on finding a solution to “clearly define the intake and low-barrier screening process that ensures the safety and well-being of village participants and neighboring students and residents.”

The rejection of the village last week, while largely only symbolic, did not go over well with Ryan, who’s leading the creation of the six safe rest villages. He responded sourly.

“I am deeply concerned that the [group] chose to stoke fear regarding sexual orientation by targeting the Queer Affinity Village, and I stand by my conviction that villages will make communities safer,” Ryan said, adding that “criminal history screening is not part of any of our publicly funded shelters. That does not, however, invalidate any potential parole and probation requirements, nor does it mean relaxing rules and expectations around conduct.”

The group hit back at the implication that its objections were rooted in homophobia. “We find this accusation from Commissioner Ryan insulting and factually incorrect, and once again, he is not hearing our concerns,” the Naito group said in a statement to WW.

Ill will aside, the neighborhood associations are starting to file their requests with the city.

The Multnomah Neighborhood Association sent its good neighbor agreement to Ryan and his staffers on May 12 for the planned pod village at the former Jerome F. Sears Army Reserve Center. The association made the same requests as the downtown group: prohibit unsanctioned camping within 1,000 feet of the village and check for felony convictions. It also asks to be allowed to work with the Police Bureau on ensuring security around the village.

The document also reminds the city that the neighborhood expects the villages to have only a short shelf life—three years maximum.