There's a brand new organized homeless camp in the city that fits plenty of Mayor Charlie Hales' priorities for getting people into safe space.
The camp, being built today near SE 93rd and Woodstock, is designed to be a haven for homeless women subjected to frequent sexual assault on the streets—a segment officials have rightly prioritized for emergency shelter recently. It's connected to a nonprofit; an organization called Advocacy 5 that's helping pay for security and facilities. And the camp plans to use a mixture of tents and community spaces, portable toilets, and dumpsters—similar to a vision for "communal villages" the city's communicated recently.
One thing the new camp doesn't have in common with the city's vision? It's going up without any official permission—on public land, in a part of the city officials are desperate to redevelop. It's on a plot owned by the Portland Development Commission in the Lents neighborhood.
"We cannot, as an agency of conscience that sees this population almost daily, wait anymore for the City of Portland to take action," reads a message Advocacy 5 wrote to Lents neighbors. "There are women being violated in the most heinous of ways, everyday."
In the note [PDF], Advocacy 5's president and CEO Lisa Lake describes the organization as "the fiscal agent for several small grassroots agencies" that work with the homeless, including the group Boots on the Ground PDX, which has been doing outreach work near the Springwater Corridor trail.
"We are treating this as an emergency [domestic violence] shelter in order to protect women from ongoing assaults," Lake writes. "Is there anyone among us who does not want to keep these women safe?"
If the camp's roll out is a surprise to some neighbors, it won't be to the city. Lake tells the Mercury there have been talks about setting up campers on the land for months, but that the city recently announced to advocates, with no reason offered, that it wasn't a viable property for campers.
Nonetheless, Lake says her group submitted plans to the city for a camp a couple weeks ago, announcing it would be setting people up on the site—permission or no. Officials never responded.
The relatively long history of this project means Advocacy 5 has laid a lot of groundwork for the camp. It has tents, and is building platforms this afternoon to put them on. It's also reached out to Portland mayoral candidate Sarah Iannarone, who Lake says has helped connect the group with volunteers.
"She’s here with a hammer right now," Lake said today. "She’s been there, she’s met with us."
Five women will live in the camp initially, along with homeless advocate Trena Sutton, who'll act as a "live-in host." That number will grow over time, under the group's plans. Advocacy 5 has ordered two large, cloth quonset-hut-style structures from the National Guard that will serve as communal space, Lake says. They'll arrive shortly (they're being shipped from Louisiana). There's a plan for the layout of the camp, too.
Perhaps most crucially, Advocacy 5 has funding. Lake says she's secured monthly recurring donations of around $2,600, and is contracting with social services providers for meals and hiring private security at night.
"We do not see this as a long-term landing spot," Lake writes in her letter. "We are hoping this spurs the City of Portland to start making serious plans regarding our houseless community—the most vulnerable first."
This isn't the first time a group's set up on city land without permission. In January, a camp calling itself Forgotten Realms surprised officials when it set up on a plot at North Kerby and Graham. Hales' office first announced the campers would have to find somewhere else to go, then changed its mind. But it warned, at the time, that anyone trying a similar strategy in the future would likely be unsuccessful.
"We didn't do this subversively, but we're doing it for the women," says Lake, who acknowledges she's unsure how city officials will react. "It should be an interesting week, this week."
The PDC hasn't responded to a message seeking comment. Hales' office promised us a response tomorrow. In the meantime, here's what the new camp—tentatively called Hope Forward (a play on local housing authority Home Forward)—looks like right now.
Update, Monday 1:40 pm: According to the PDC, this property might not be public for long. In March, the agency received two offers to purchase the 0.38-acre plot, after years of failing to attract interest. The winning bid? A $500,000 proposal to build a food cart pod and market rate apartments on the land, from Clackamas-based Lisac Brothers Construction. The development commission will vote Wednesday on whether to pursue that proposal.