TRENA SUTTON had gone to Mayor Charlie Hales' offices to ask the usual questions.
It was Monday, March 16, and Sutton, a longtime advocate for the homeless on Portland's eastern fringe, wanted to talk about the camping sweeps that have become commonplace—along with campers—on the Springwater Corridor trail.
She also took up a timeworn refrain: that East Portland needs to have a dedicated outpost for an ever-growing homeless population.
"I'm doing my usual begging, but I can be very tough," says Sutton, recalling the meeting. That's when Josh Alpert—a key aide to the mayor on homeless issues—surprised her.
At a time when officials are still struggling to find a new home for homeless rest area Right 2 Dream Too, Alpert said Portland might have room for a second, similar site. He even had a piece of land to suggest—an undeveloped plot near SE 52nd and Woodstock.
"We know we need to really figure something out," says Alpert, confirming Sutton's version of their recent meeting. "It's truly Lord of the Flies out there, and numbers are swelling."
It's the first time we've heard acknowledgment from Mayor Charlie Hales' people that the R2DToo model—lauded for the discipline and stability it offers to those seeking a path out of poverty—should maybe be expanded in Portland. And while similar talks have gone on behind the scenes in the last year, this latest one's got legs.
The proposed property, which Alpert wouldn't give specifics on, fell into his lap only recently. An Oregonian reader saw an article about the difficulties of relocating R2DToo, and offered up the land for sale.
But Woodstock may as well be Antarctica, as far as the rest area's reliable core of downtown social services is concerned. The group passed, Alpert says.
Sutton, initially hearing Alpert's suggestion, had similar qualms. The people she advocates for live nowhere near the Woodstock property. They camp in out-of-the-way places, and congregate at the Clackamas Service Center, a meal provider close to the Springwater and nearly three miles southeast of the proposed site.
"It's kind of like scorched earth," she said of the Woodstock property days after her meeting with Alpert. "My people don't have any money for bus passes."
But now she's not so sure.
Since Alpert suggested the plot, Sutton's discussed the idea with some of her regulars. At a time when campers are being swept off the Springwater more quickly than ever, she says there's a sentiment that maybe the Woodstock location's viable.
"It's a far piece, but that's okay," she said on March 24. She'd left Alpert a message the night before to talk more seriously about the deal, and was hoping to put together an agreement with TriMet that might offer short-term subsidized bus service to the site.
There's a lot still in the air, yes, but it's also the most solid possibility East Portland's homeless have had in a long, long time.
The theoretical rest area even has a name—a tribute to the curt NIMBYism that tends to follow such efforts around town.
"We're going to call it 'My Backyard,'" Sutton says.