This page was originally published 5.18.22. It was updated on 07.25.23.
How did we get here?
Not everyone living on the street is ready to move directly to housing, yet, there has been a gap providing immediate services for those in need before they are ready to move into housing, or before housing is ready for them. The Safe Rest Villages program is one approach to address this immediate need.
The Safe Rest Village approach is innovative for Portland—a City-led, federally-funded, compassionately-modeled alternative shelter paired with wraparound mental and behavioral health services, private sleeping units, and basic amenities that gives vulnerable Portlanders an on-ramp to permanent housing.
The path to Safe Rest Villages has not been easy.
In April of 2021, Portland City Council unanimously passed the Shelter to Housing Continuum: this ordinance changed the city's zoning code to allow for siting outdoor villages, and it instructed city bureaus to identify city-owned properties that could potentially be used for outdoor shelters. Prior to this, it was not clear that placement of temporary outdoor shelters were allowed under city code.
In June of 2021, City Council unanimously passed the Paving the Pathway from Streets to Stability ordinance (#190478), which codified the city's approach toward outdoor shelters and provided the regulatory tools needed to build six Safe Rest Villages, as well as other similar villages that others may want to open. Safe Rest Villages are alternative shelters—not tents—that provide a place for Portlanders to sleep, basic and necessary hygiene, and access to case management and behavioral health services. Safe Rest Villages provide harm reduction. With dignity, stable living, and support services, the trauma and volatility of life on the streets can be reduced. This allows for healing and stability. The program goal is for villagers to be able to enter recovery, return home / reconnect with family, or find permanent supportive housing, among other options.
By Labor Day 2021, Commissioner Ryan assembled a team of dedicated Portlanders with lived experience to make the Safe Rest Village vision a reality.
Safe Rest Villages are an improved point of entry for Portlanders on the continuum from living on the streets to finding stability in permanent housing.
Safe Rest Villages are among a range of services and program models being employed to address houselessness. The City and Multnomah County—through theJoint Office of Homeless Services, with federal ARPA funding and revenue from the Metro Supportive Housing Services Measure—are expanding that system of services, serving tens of thousands of people every year.
What was the site selection process?
The Safe Rest Village team developed site selection criteria with input from many sources. Community members shared thoughts on criteria and specific sites with the Commissioner, with all Council offices and bureau staff. A Home for Everyone’s Safety Off the Streets Workgroup—comprised of people with lived experience as unhoused neighbors—also significantly informed the site selection criteria.
Residents of existing outdoor shelters, staff from both the SRV team and the Joint Office of Homeless Services (JOHS), many of whom have lived experience being unhoused, shaped the criteria and were part of the decision-making process of site selection. Staff from other bureaus (Homelessness and Urban Camping Impact Reduction Program, the Bureau of Development Services, Portland Fire and Rescue, and the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability) also reviewed and provided feedback on the criteria.
Not every site meets all criteria. Factoring in how a given site meets some but not all criteria was an important part of the process.
Generally, the criteria used fell into three categories:
Safe to Rest In
- Not subject to environmental risk or hazards (contaminated soils, etc.)
- Topography (relatively flat - or can be made flat, safe for walking, wheelchairs, pod placement)
- Enough space for COVID-safe distances between pods, communal space, and shared buildings
- Some shelter from the elements
Accessible and Usable
- Accommodates people with differing abilities*
- Proximity to social services, transit, jobs for villagers
- Easy in/out for service providers, without impacting neighbors
- Easy connection to utilities
- Square footage sufficient to accommodate pods, shared spaces, and amenities
- Geographic areas of particular need
* Note - the sites are built to be as accessible as possible, but are not meant to be fully compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. People with some accommodation needs are better served by indoor, motel, or other types of shelters.
- Costs to purchase or lease land, etc.
- Length of time available for use as a village
- Zoning rules
How does equity inform your work?
As a core value of the City of Portland, the Safe Rest Village team continually approaches our work from an equity perspective.
As with any community, Portlanders living outside are not a monolithic group—they are a diverse group of people of all ages, races, sexual orientations, and abilities. As a response to the unique needs for safety and community among specific groups, some of the alternative shelters originally established with City General Funds focused on serving members of the Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) community, while another was established to support queer-identifying individuals. This project worked to serve communities of color at the rate they experience unsheltered homelessness in our region.
Accessibility is also a vital part of our work. According to the 2022 Point-in-time (PIT) count, 60.8% of our houseless population reported a disabling condition. Sites were developed to be as accessible as possible - though recognized that some people would be better served at indoor shelters (motel, congregate, or other types) to meet their needs. Lighting, ramping, ground surfacing, and more – all decisions were reviewed with a thought towards access, safety, and functionality.
The team also considered geographic equity. Sites were considered across the City, in all quadrants, with siting criteria as the guide to ensure their success in serving future villagers. We learned years ago that limiting shelters to one part of the city was a barrier that prevented some Portlanders from accessing shelter. People with lived experience said they needed services in the neighborhoods where they already had connections and where they were being forced from their housing and onto the streets.
The History of BIPOC and Queer Affinity Safe Rest Villages
In the early days of the pandemic the City, in collaboration with community organizations and the Joint Office of Homeless Services, set up three emergency outdoor physical distancing shelters. Two of the three shelters provided space and support for culturally specific groups. One, the Queer Affinity Village was created to build a welcoming atmosphere for LGBTQIA+ self-identified neighbors. Another, the BIPOC Village (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) was founded to create an atmosphere meeting the needs of People of Color. The third was Old Town Village, which was not culturally specific and has since closed.
As of July 2022 (the start of the City's fiscal year), BIPOC Village and Queer Affinity Village are funded by the City of Portland’s American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) allocation. These two alternative shelters have a slightly different program model than the Safe Rest Villages but share the same goal of providing services and stability to people experiencing unsheltered houselessness to help them move to their next step – housing.