The mayor’s office offered a partial clarification Friday on the fate of Hazelnut Grove, after Commissioner Dan Ryan’s potentially premature announcement Thursday that officials had reached a “critical breakthrough” to preserve the self-governed village. Ryan’s message and responses from other city officials set off a wave of confusion among some homeless advocates.
On Thursday evening, Ryan had Tweeted that the city was extending a lifeline to Hazelnut Grove, which the city officials had slated for ‘decommissioning:’ residents would receive services for an additional six months. He thanked the mayor for the decision. The mayor’s office later said they weren’t on the same page.
The future for Hazelnut Grove continues to be somewhat unclear, but the mayor’s office confirmed that the encampment will lose some services it’s been receiving. But officials said residents who want to remain will be allowed to do so with some basic city support.
The mayor’s office clarified Friday that they will still be cutting funding for a storage facility, fencing, and landscape work in the area and redirecting the money to other sites, as the Portland Tribune had previously reported. Jim Middaugh, the mayor’s spokesperson, said the city will continue to provide the basic services that the city’s urban camping program provides to all non-sanctioned camps.
“The porta-potty, the handwashing station and the garbage service will continue as long as people choose to stay there,” said Middaugh.
The mayor’s office said no one will be forcibly removed from the area. Some residents have said they will move to St. Johns Village, a soon-to-open alternative shelter with pods. Others would be offered space in another shelter.
Commissioner Ryan’s office didn’t provide a response to OPB’s repeated requests for clarification Friday.
The city had announced last month that officials would soon close the self-governed village in North Portland’s Overlook neighborhood, citing environmental concerns. For five years, the city had provided vital services to the community, including portable toilets, trash pick-up, and fencing. But in January, with a new alternative shelter site poised to open, the city said the danger of landslides and difficulty accessing the site in case of an emergency made the closure necessary.
The decision led to an outcry among many residents and homeless advocates, who argued uprooting people in the midst of a pandemic created a public health risk. They accused the city of hiding behind environmental concerns to appease people living in houses nearby who wanted the village gone. A petition to save the village has gathered nearly 6,000 signatures.
Barbie Weber, a homeless advocate who lives in Hazelnut Grove, said she was frustrated by the apparent bureaucratic confusion between commissioners, which had left the community unclear about their fate. Weber said she believed the mayor had made the situation needlessly complex by passing the Joint Office of Homeless Services to Ryan, while keeping the urban camping program under his purview.
“Not all my neighbors are advocates. They don’t know what’s going on,” said Weber. “....They’re making it a bureaucratic nightmare. Who are you supposed to go talk to? Who do you have to go lobby to get things done?”
Weber lived in the grove for a year and said she and her partner had no interest in moving to a smaller single occupancy temporary shelter. The mayor’s office had previously said about 11 of the 15 residents had agreed to leave the village. Weber said, by her count, the number was five.