After years of delays, Portland is poised to open its third Safe Rest Village in North Portland.
The outdoor homeless shelter will be located in North Portland’s University Park neighborhood, adjacent to the Peninsula Crossing bike and pedestrian trail. The Peninsula Crossing Safe Rest Village will include 60 sleeping pods with access to heat and electricity, bathrooms, a kitchen area, and a community gathering space. The village is expected to open within the next few months.
The city announced Thursday that the village will be operated by a California-based nonprofit called Urban Alchemy. Urban Alchemy has no experience operating in Portland, but has managed outdoor homeless shelters in San Francisco and Los Angeles since 2020.
In March, it was awarded an initial contract with Portland to oversee the first of six newly planned homeless encampments, which the city calls “temporary alternative shelter sites,” expected to hold up to 150 people. The first site is set to open in Southeast Portland this summer.
The city has already awarded Urban Alchemy a $50 million contract to run this and additional mass shelter sites for five years. However, this contract does not include any plans to operate a Safe Rest Village. The city did not say how much they are paying Urban Alchemy to operate the Peninsula Crossing Safe Rest Village.
Urban Alchemy’s leadership touts its employees’ lived experience with homelessness and incarceration as key to running shelters in a trauma-informed way. Yet, the nonprofit has faced public scrutiny since introducing itself in Portland, due to California lawsuits alleging labor violations and accusations of sexual abuse from an unhoused resident. Urban Alchemy leaders have denied all accusations.
City Commissioner Dan Ryan, who oversees the Safe Rest Village program, expressed his support for Urban Alchemy.
“My team and I have seen firsthand how Urban Alchemy’s shelters work, how they provide services and support for those sheltered there, and how their approach fosters community and stability to those experiencing houselessness,” Ryan said in a statement. “The City of Portland is lucky to bring this type of experience to the mix of talented local service providers. We know there is often more than one solution to any challenge and having a variety of service providers helps diversify the approaches we are offering to help those most in need.”
The city said it is nearing completion on the village’s construction. City homeless outreach workers have spent the past few weeks meeting with people living in nearby homeless encampments to gauge their interest in moving in.
Ryan established the Safe Rest Village program in July 2021 as a place for people experiencing homelessness to temporarily stay and receive basic services while waiting to move into permanent housing. Ryan originally said all six villages would be open by the end of 2021. As of now, only two other villages have opened: one in East Portland’s Hazelwood neighborhood and the other in Southwest Portland’s Multnomah Village.
The city program also oversees two outdoor shelters originally established in 2020 with pandemic assistance funding received through the American Rescue Plan Act.
The Peninsula Crossing Village has faced scrutiny throughout its construction from housed and unhoused neighborhoods alike.
The city-owned property was previously home to Portland’s famed Belmont Goats, which have long-since been displaced from a Southeast Portland lot. In February, the city swept a homeless encampment near the proposed village site, upsetting residents there. This removal coincided with reports of someone cutting the fence enclosing the property, releasing seven goats. The fence-cutters identified themselves as “some anarchists” in a note left behind, and wrote that sweeps are a “cruel, inhuman, and murderous way for the city to push people around.” The goats have since been relocated to a fenced-in field south of the village pending a more permanent move.
University Park homeowners have shared their own anxieties about living next door to the homeless shelter.
The city said that after Urban Alchemy has the village open, the city will work on establishing a “good neighbor agreement” between the village and its neighbors. Those are nonbinding documents that detail a set of mutual expectations between villagers and nearby homeowners.