A Portland neighborhood association scrapped a proposed rule that would have excluded some houseless residents from becoming voting members.
The Overlook Neighborhood Association — under pressure from the city of Portland — pulled support for the bylaw amendment last week. Hazelnut Grove, a houseless village within the neighborhood, benefited from the decision, but tensions escalated.
Vahid Brown, co-founder of Hazelnut Grove and the village’s liaison to the city, said in a recent interview on “Think Out Loud” that the proposal amounted to disenfranchisement of houseless community members.
“They’re making decisions about houseless people. Houseless people are a part of that community and should be involved in that conversation,” he said.
The proposal would have required prospective neighborhood association members to provide a legal address. The changes would have made exceptions for registered nonprofits and members of city-recognized houseless communities. Association board chair Chris Trejbal acknowledged in an interview last week that the proponents of the bylaw change sought to exclude transient campers and other homeless people in the neighborhood from participation.
“We would like many voting members to come out,” Trejbal said. “But for our neighborhood, we think that it’s more than just walking in, dropping a sleeping bag in Overlook Park, and then showing up and saying, ‘I get to vote.’”
Overlook came under scrutiny when city officials learned about the bylaw proposal. The Portland Office of Neighborhood Involvement (ONI) sent a letter on Aug. 11 warning that the association risked violating city standards prohibiting income-based discrimination and striving to foster diversity in neighborhood involvement.
“If the Overlook Neighborhood Association were to move forward with adoption of such a restriction, ONI would have to consider exercising its authority to suspend, and perhaps eventually terminate, the Overlook Neighborhood Association’s benefits of formal recognition,” the ONI’s Brian Hoop wrote in the letter. “This is not a decision that ONI would lightly make.”
Trejbal pushed back against questions about whether Overlook sought to specifically exclude members of Hazelnut Grove, which has been a point of contention in the neighborhood since Hazelnut Grove’s founding in 2015.
“I would welcome one of them on the board, because honestly, we don’t have good communications right now,” Trejbal said. “If they were coming to our meetings on a regular basis, we could really improve relations. But they don’t come.”
Marvin Ross, a resident of Hazelnut Grove, says he has come to about four neighborhood association meetings over the past two years. He said he felt disregarded when the association brought up the proposal to exclude houseless residents like him.
“Even though we may be houseless, we are not invisible,” Ross said. “Just to take that away from people, to say, ‘You’re useless, you’re worthless,’ that’s degrading in and of itself.”
Trejbal’s says he’s unhappy with the city’s approach to Hazelnut Grove. He claims that the city had initially promised to move the site.
Jamey Duhamel, director of policy for Portland City Commissioner Chloe Eudaly, argued that the city has worked hard to address the neighborhood’s concerns about Hazelnut Grove, but that moving the camp is not a viable option.
“We’ve really tried to work very actively with the neighborhood and Hazelnut Grove to identify issues and mitigate those concerns,” she said. “So we’re doing our part to make sure that things are safe and they’re working well, and we’re very confident that Hazelnut Grove is doing the same.”
To hear more from the “Think Out Loud” conversation with Vahid Brown and Marvin Ross, click play in the audio player at the top of the page. You can hear the conversation with Chris Trejbal here.