A pathway through Hazelnut Grove.
A pathway through Hazelnut Grove. Alex Zielinski

After a week of mixed messaging from City Hall, Hazelnut Grove residents have received some good news: The city will not be cutting its current services to the North Portland tiny home village in the "foreseeable future."

That means the city will continue to provide trash pickup, porta-potty services, and an on-site storage unit to the village, which occupies a triangle of city-owned land between N Greeley and Interstate. Perhaps of most importance to the 17 formerly houseless residents who call Hazelnut Grove home, this also means the city will not be removing the chainlink fence that runs along the perimeter of the property and provides a sense of security to the villagers.

Residents were alerted to this news in a Thursday letter signed by Mayor Ted Wheeler and City Commissioner Dan Ryan, whose office oversees the Joint Office of Homeless Services and Portland Housing Bureau.

This update contradicts with plans announced by Wheeler late last week to sever these services by the end of March, in hopes of forcing residents to relocate. While the city has allowed the self-governed village to casually occupy the property since 2015, increased pressure from disapproving neighbors and a growing concern about potential environmental risks has motivated Wheeler to close the village.

Wheeler had stated in January that he'd begin rolling back these additional services to Hazelnut Grove as soon as a new city-sanctioned tiny home shelter called St. Johns Village opened, allowing Hazelnut Grove tenants to relocate. Last Wednesday, Wheeler's office told the Portland Tribune that he would begin cutting the monthly $1,500 in city services to Hazelnut Grove in March, when St. Johns Village is expected to open.

Yet Ryan's office contradicted this plan a day later, confidently tweeting that the city will continue funding these services for at least six more months. Asked to confirm, Wheeler's office told the Tribune that Ryan had it wrong.

This confusion left Hazelnut Grove residents with little clarity about their future. Many residents aren't interested in moving to St. John's Village, which has been described more as a transitional shelter than a long-term community. Villagers told the Mercury that they felt demoralized by the entire process.

The Thursday letter signaling yet another change came after several community organizations and advocates reached out to the city to oppose Wheeler's stated plan. It brought cautious relief to those living at Hazelnut Grove.

"Well, it shows we're making some progress," said Barbie Weber, a homeless advocate who's lived at Hazelnut Grove for a year. "But it's really just putting their bureaucratic failures on paper. We still have unanswered questions."

Weber is particularly worried about the city's previously stated plan to begin deconstructing and removing vacant structures from Hazelnut Grove as people begin to move out. She imagined that process could be traumatic to people still living in the village, especially those who helped build the structures.

The letter did not address whether or not this was still on the table. According to Jim Middaugh, a spokesperson for Wheeler's office, it's not.

"Vacated structures will remain in place," wrote Middaugh in an email to the Mercury.

Despite the future of their community, Hazelnut Grove residents are working on a Plan B. Villagers plan on submitting a proposal to the city's new alternative shelter design program, in which members of the public can submit ideas for alternative shelter projects—like a tiny home village—the city should build. The city will put $3 million into the winning proposal.

"I want to see our proposal be prioritized," said Weber. "Because of what the city's made us put up with."