Exclusive: Shelters for the homeless coming to St. Johns

The Backstory

In late October 2023, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler announced the opening of a Temporary Alternative Shelter Site in the St. Johns neighborhood as part of a broader plan to establish six mass homeless shelters in the city. The facility, situated at 10505 North Portland Road and operated by the California non-profit Urban Alchemy, is set to offer tent and pod housing, along with space for RVs and campers. In addition to providing housing, the facility will connect residents with support services, including mental health and substance use disorder treatment. The initiative emphasizes community engagement and collaboration with local stakeholders.

Q: How will the city address the critical issue of limited accessibility to service providers and essential resources for the unhoused residents while engaging with the community?

A: The city is approaching the issue by ensuring that each shelter location operates with 24/7 availability and a range of amenities provided to guests. Through collaborative efforts involving the Joint Office for Homeless Services, a partnership between the City of Portland and Multnomah County, including organizations like Transition Projects, Central City Concern, and the Mental Health Association of Oregon, the initiative aims to bring essential services directly to residents. Continuous engagement with the St. Johns community forms an integral part of this effort, and ongoing collaborations with the Bureau of Environmental Services and the Department of Environmental Quality ensure environmental mitigation and remediation as well as community involvement in the process.

Q: How does the city aim to mitigate environmental risks and address concerns about the shelter being situated in a flood zone while actively engaging with the community?

A: The city has implemented proactive measures to mitigate environmental risks and address concerns about shelter location by involving the St. Johns community in the early stages of shelter development. This is coupled with close collaboration between city authorities, the Bureau of Environmental Services, and the Department of Environmental Quality to ensure comprehensive environmental mitigation and remediation. Continuous monitoring of the shelter perimeter area, along with a 24/7 hotline staffed by service providers for any complaints or queries about the site or perimeter issues, ensures ongoing community involvement. On-site service providers actively engage and communicate with neighbors, addressing concerns about unsanctioned campsites and reporting incidents of illegal activities or waste, thereby fostering continuous community engagement in the shelter’s operation. As we file for permits, our plans will be reviewed for our purpose of building an emergency shelter that allows individuals to reside there. Our initial discussions with BES do not indicate contamination issues are at levels that would prove unsafe for individuals residing at the site. General plans for the site consist of paving about 10 acres and installing an appropriate stormwater runoff system, along with electrical, water, and sanitary systems. We do not plan to develop any land near the slough in the environmental conservation zone, which approximately overlaps with the flood hazard area. Most of the site does not fall in the AE zone.

Q: Were alternative locations examined before choosing this site, and how is the city involving the community in ensuring safety for unhoused individuals?

A: The city thoroughly reviewed multiple areas across Portland before selecting the shelter locations. In the selection process, active collaboration with the St. Johns community was fundamental, as their input shaped the decision-making process. Ongoing collaboration with the Bureau of Environmental Services, the Department of Environmental Quality, and other relevant organizations ensures that community concerns are addressed, ensuring safety and effective shelter operation. Our development process includes required reviews for various safety elements, and we will only develop the site once we receive appropriate permits. After the significant developments we place on this property, we will have created a space that provides safety, food, water, hygiene facilities, and access to health and housing services. Nobody will be forced to come to the site. We believe that this site will be a significant upgrade in safety for individuals whose alternative is to live in challenging situations on the street.

Q: What long-term strategies and initiatives are being put in place to ensure the well-being and safety of the residents, especially considering the considerable distance from typical service providers and resources due to the remote location of the shelter, and how is the community involved in this plan?

A: The city’s long-term strategy involves bringing services directly to residents and preparing them for permanent housing. This approach, informed by challenges faced in connecting homeless individuals across the city, includes continuous monitoring and active engagement with the St. Johns community, fostering ongoing community involvement and feedback in ensuring the well-being and safety of the residents. Collaborations with the Bureau of Environmental Services, the Department of Environmental Quality, and other organizations play a crucial role in addressing concerns and ensuring a safe environment at the shelter sites, thereby involving the community in the operational process. Based on our initial studies, the majority of individuals living in RVs on City streets also own a car. We will have parking for extra automobiles, which residents may use as they see fit to transport themselves as necessary. Our contract with Urban Alchemy also builds in leases for vehicles that Urban Alchemy can use to provide transportation or shuttle services to individuals who might need them.

Q: Will you prioritize North Portland homeless people in bringing them to the RV campsite, or is there going to be a city-wide outreach for RVs?

A: We don’t have a geographic requirement for entry since we don’t want a presence in a certain area to be associated with a requirement for entry. However, we are very familiar with various areas in North Portland that have high numbers of individuals living in RVs or trailers, and we do plan to prioritize this area in our outreach efforts as we near the opening of the site.

For further information, you can come to the meeting being held at the St. Johns Community Center with representatives from the Major’s office. Details are on our events page (pg.)

And/or you can contact:

Cody Bowman Communications Director

Call or text: (503) 823-6405 Email: cody.bowman@portlandoregon.gov