Meg Nanna

Kenton Women's Village—the collection of 14 tiny homes in a city-owned industrial lot a block from Kenton Park—was never meant to last over a year. The village was instead opened on June 10, 2017, to act as a year-long pilot project, one that would test the efficacy of a "pop-up" shelter meant to transition women out of homelessness and into permanent housing.

But tonight, with construction on the lot's future property delayed and a year of remarkable success under its belt, the village is asking Kenton neighbors if they can stick around a while longer. It's more of a courtesy vote—since the city has said the village can remain on its property for, at least, the rest of the summer. Or whenever Transition Projects secures funding to build its planned low-income housing on the property.

Tonight's vote speaks more to the relationship the neighborhood has maintained with its fellow neighbors than anything.

"We told them we'd be here a year and now we'd like to stay longer," says village manager Bernadette Stetz. "It's unfair not to ask for their approval. We want to be as transparent as possible with our neighbors."

Unlike the opposition from neighborhood organizations we've heard over similar homeless communities, like Hazelnut Grove or Right 2 Dream Too, the Kenton Neighborhood Association (KNA) has supported the village's existence from the start—that is, after dozens of in-depth neighborhood meetings where neighbors were allowed to set some ground rules (like no overnight guests and no illegal substances). KNA was also allowed a vote on whether or not the village could set up shop in their neighborhood—a power not many other neighborhoods have been granted before a homeless village or shelter moves in.

Inside a common area at the Kenton Womens Village
Inside a common area at the Kenton Women's Village Meg Nanna

Another difference in the Kenton model: it's not self-governed. The village is managed by Catholic Charities, a longtime service provider for the homeless in Portland, and several of its staff make sure women are meeting their chore requirements, following the neighborhood rules, and having their basic needs met. Staff, including Stetz, also work as on-site case managers to help women navigate the web of rental agreements, health care plans, and federal assistance programs to set them on a path out of the village.

So far, a total of 14 women have successfully moved out of the Kenton village and into permanent housing—a number Stetz says is far beyond what was initially expected. "But we wouldn't be here without community buy-in," she says.

Tonight, the village is asking its neighbors to approve an extension of up to one year. If they reject the vote, villagers will have three months to pack up and find other accommodations. The tiny homes, or "pods," built by local architects and design students at Portland State University, are meant to be easily transported—but Catholic Charities doesn't exactly know where they could move the community.

"The women are certainly nervous for the vote," Stetz says. "But that nervousness has been translated into hard work and motivation to make sure the neighbors know we're doing our best."

Tyler Roppe, head of KNA, says the women shouldn't worry too much about the vote's outcome.

"I'm absolutely confident it will be a 'yes' vote," he told the Mercury last week, adding: "If not, it would be more of a shock than when Trump was elected."

The vote will take place tonight at KNA's monthly 6 pm meeting at Disjecta Contemporary Arts Center. Can't make it? Don't live in Kenton but have feedback? Here's a handy survey KNA wants you to fill out.