The City of Portland is working with the nonprofit JOIN, a Portland-based organization that helps people transition into permanent housing, and a number of advocacy groups to open three temporary outdoor emergency shelters starting as early as next week. The shelters are necessary to help the most vulnerable unhoused people safely shelter-in-place during the coronavirus pandemic.
Two of the sites will be in Central Eastside and a third is located in Old Town. Some minimal construction has already begun at the sites which will each host 45 single occupancy tents. Partners are also accepted so the city expects total occupancy to be more than 135 people. Residents at the shelters will be provided with tents and sleeping bags, as well as meals, showers and restrooms.
“These sites are critical for the public health, safety, and dignity of our houseless community,” Portland Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty said in a statement. “And I appreciate the collaboration and effort it took to turn these into a reality.”
It was a massive undertaking. JOIN worked with the city and the Joint Office of Homeless Services to ensure the camps have the necessary shelter and hygiene accommodations as well as meals and physical and mental health care.
The Portland Police Bureau is helping create a public safety plan.
But it was a laundry list of about 16 organizations that pushed the city to act. To tackle the effort, they formed a collaborative called Creating Conscious Communities with People Outside (C3PO).
Right 2 Dream Too (R2DToo) is one of those organizations.
The names are not lost on the organizers.
“I'm thrilled that R2DToo and C3PO can finally be together,” R2DToo co-founder and board member Trillium Shannon said. “It's been a longtime dream of ours.”
The pandemic has helped accelerate normally slow-moving bureaucracy into hyperdrive and aligned often disparate groups with the kind of efficiency Queen Padmé Amidala dreamt of when she ousted Chancellor Finis Valorum in "The Phantom Menace."
“It does feel like a major accomplishment to get this many people on the same page to move towards something like this together,” Shannon said. “We would have liked to see these kinds of places set up prior to a pandemic but I'm glad that now that this pandemic has hit, and we're feeling it in our community, that we're doing everything we can to keep each other safe.”
One of the sites will prioritize people who identify as LGBTQ, another will be for people of color, and a third will be for a blended population including older adults, women, and people with disabilities. Applications are already being accepted at Street Roots, St Francis Dining Hall, Right 2 Dream Too, Q Center and JOIN PDX. Intake forms are also available online in English and Spanish.
Shannon has been processing applications at R2DToo and said demand is already high.
“We expect to have a lot more people apply to be part of these camps than we can possibly accept into them,” Shannon said. “Which is really hard.”
San Francisco was moving forward with a similar plan to house people at the city's convention center and the landmark Palace of Fine Arts. City leaders reversed course after a scathing article in the Street Sheet, a San Francisco newspaper published by the Coalition on Homelessness, decried the lack of handwashing stations, limited bathroom facilities, and insufficient personal space. Instead, San Francisco plans to rent up to 7,000 vacant hotel rooms in the city.
Multnomah County has reserved a limited number of hotel beds for people already in shelters who develop coronavirus symptoms but has not opted for large scale hotel usage.