Right 2 Dream Too, facing a looming eviction tomorrow, will instead stay in place. And within 60 days, the respected homeless camp will have brand new digs—a plot of
Portland Development Commission Portland Bureau of Transportation-owned land just west of the Moda Center. Here's the approximate location:
The news of R2DToo's latest extension—first confirmed to the Mercury by Michael Wright, the camp's long-term landlord—was bolstered by a news release from Mayor Ted Wheeler's office. After Wheeler vetoed a proposed relocation of the camp to SW Naito earlier this year, his staff had been working to find another location.
Its current pick—a paved lot that's been used as parking for acts performing at the Moda Center—popped up roughly three weeks ago. Berk Nelson, a Wheeler advisor who's been the mayor's point person on homelessness, says he first heard about the land from Marc Jolin, director of the Multnomah County Joint Office of Homeless Services, and Ben Mauro, who works on homeless issues for the city's Office of Management and Finance.
"They said, 'Wow, we were looking at Portland Maps and we came across this property," Nelson tells the Mercury. " It’s right of way owned by PBOT that could actually work."
Nelson visited the lot with city facilities staff, then brought leaders of R2DToo by, he says. Roughly a week and a half ago, the camp assented to the move.
Of course, moving R2DToo has rarely been easy, and Wheeler's latest proposal has a couple catches. The most obvious is zoning, which last year derailed plans to move the camp to the Central Eastside. The city is under a housing state of emergency that lets officials duck zoning rules that can make it hard to site homeless camps. But that emergency is slated to run out in October, and Wheeler has not committed to pushing an extension, as former Mayor Charlie Hales did last year.
"We don't know what’s going to happen in October," says Nelson, adding the city will stay in "continuous talks" with the camp.
According to the city's news release, the well-regarded homeless camp will stay in the location for "up to two years." The city will work with TriMet to help residents ferry across the river to the clutch of social services organizations in Old Town.
Another question is what sort of prep the empty lot might need to play host to dozens of people. Michael Cox, Wheeler's chief spokesperson, says the property needs electricity and potable water, but that the city is still looking into exactly what will be required. The city is expected to finalize an agreement with Right 2 Dream Too later today, Cox says, along with a deal to allow the camp to stay in its current spot for two months.
Lastly, there is the question of neighbors. Nelson says he's trying to get ahold of the Eliot Neighborhood Association, but hasn't heard objections from the Trail Blazers organization or the owners of a nearby grain mill.
A spokesperson for the Trail Blazers wouldn't immediately comment, and a woman who answered the phone at the local outpost of the mill owner, Louis Dreyfus Company, said she hadn't heard about the proposal and referred the Mercury to the company's Connecticut headquarters.
The extension keeps intact a deal that Wright (and co-owners of the land) have with the Portland Development Commission, which might purchase the land for $1.2 million.
It also gives Right 2 Dream Too some much needed breathing room. Mayor Ted Wheeler's office said in recent days it would only permit an extension if there was a viable new home for R2DToo. The Rose Quarter plot appears to be a good option. It's a fairly quick trip over the Steel Bridge to Old Town.
"Personally, I'm happy about it," says Sarah Chandler, R2DToo's chairperson.
Shortly after noon, R2DToo issued a press release expressing grattitude to Wright and other owners of its current home, and voicing hope for the new plot. From the release:
Three times we found a reasonable relocation site and three times we were turned away by individuals, businesses and organizations who, out of ignorance and fear, refused to accept our presence, even as we committed to continuing to be good and safe neighbors.
Now, again, the City of Portland has answered our immediate needs by finding the Thunderbird site near the MODA Center. We intend to continue to serve the people whose needs for sleep are being met by our peer run rest area.
We've posted the city's full release below. R2DToo's attorney, Mark Kramer, says there will be a press conference at 4 pm announcing the news.
PORTLAND, OR – R2DToo will move from their current site within 60 days to a new site on the Eastside between the Moda Center and the Willamette River. The PDC and landlords of R2DToo’s current location have granted an extension to allow R2DToo to plan and complete the move.
“Solutions around locating R2DToo have eluded the City for years, and it was unclear if this time would be any different,” said Mayor Wheeler. “I want to thank the residents and representatives of R2DToo, Commissioners Fritz and Saltzman, and our respective staffs for sticking with it. Their dedication to collaboration and problem solving made all the difference.”
The property, owned by the Portland Bureau of Transportation, is the triangular segment of right-of-way and is a paved surface parking lot at the west end of North Holladay Street, where North Thunderbird Road and North Crosby Avenue come together.
The City will work through the region's Low Income Fare Program and Fare Assistance Program administered by TriMet in partnership with Ride Connection to supply R2DToo residents with transit passes at no cost to access services.
R2DToo will remain at the site for up to two years, and both the City and R2DToo will remain engaged in efforts to find a long-term solution.