Photo courtesy of Catholic Charities

TWO DAYS before the city’s new tiny home village finally opened up for its first 14 female residents, someone drove in at night to do doughnuts in the adjacent gravel parking lot.

Was it a statement of opposition to the small—yet symbolically huge—addition of a government-implemented homeless village in Kenton, or mere youthful exuberance? Opinions varied during an open house on Friday, June 9, showing off Kenton Women’s Village for the first time.

Neither motive would surprise. In March, when the Kenton Neighborhood Association held a vote to see whether residents supported a community of homeless women in an unused lot near Kenton Park, a strident minority would not be budged in their opposition—mostly rooted in the fears around safety and hygiene that cling to any discussion on homelessness.

This is precisely where Kenton Women’s Village’s key promise lies. Beyond the good the village might do for the women who live there over the next year, the project has the potential to further pave a way for new and innovative models to help address the city’s homelessness crisis.

“We know that traditional shelter does not work for everybody,” Michael Cox, a spokesperson for Mayor Ted Wheeler, told a small crowd at the recent open house. (Wheeler was at a meeting elsewhere.) “We know that a model like this really can work for people.”

That Kenton Women’s Village even exists is a testament to advocates and volunteers who’ve been relentlessly pushing this and similar models for the last year under the banner of the Village Coalition. As we’ve reported, those efforts eventually pulled in local architects and others who designed and built the tiny homes now sitting in the Kenton lot.

They also spurred the city to spend something like $200,000 cleaning the lot (which it owns), covering it with gravel, and purchasing two one-of-a-kind shipping containers outfitted to serve as restrooms and a kitchen. Multnomah County is chipping in nearly $150,000 to pay for a site manager and connect residents with social services through Catholic Charities.

The early buy-in makes Kenton Women’s Village an outlier—other sanctioned camps around the city got their start as acts of protest, before eventually winning over officials. But there are other signs the village model is progressing as well.

When at long last it made its way to a new home near the Moda Center earlier this month, rest area Right 2 Dream Too brought some new additions: 10 tiny homes built by students at Benson Polytechnic High School.

The new homes will go to “members” of the nonprofit, who stay in camp full-time to help run things. They’re another step toward more experimentation, helping familiarize Portland residents and leaders alike with what these villages look like, and the assistance they can provide.

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The goal is that that will pay off when the proposal for the next village comes around.

As Todd Ferry, an architect with Portland State University, told the crowd at last week’s open house: “We’re hoping that you all will partner with us on the next village—and the next village.”

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