Right 2 Dream Too, one of Portlands longtime houseless villages
Right 2 Dream Too, one of Portland's longtime houseless villages Mercury Staff

The hundreds of houseless Portlanders unable to follow Gov. Kate Brown's stay-at-home order will have the option of sleeping in a city-run tent village beginning next week.

The City of Portland, in collaboration with homeless service provider JOIN, is set to open three "outdoor emergency shelters" across the city next week, each offering 45 tents to people in Multnomah County experiencing homelessness. A press release announcing the news likened these shelters to tent villages—like Portland's Dignity Village or Right 2 Dream Too—because the sites will offer a "supportive community environment" and access to "regular meals, drinking water, shower and handwashing amenities, and restrooms."

The city has paid for new tents, cots, and sleeping bags for each site, but will allow visitors to place their own gear in on-site storage.

“These supported campsites are an important next step for unhoused people to shelter in place while meeting hygiene needs,” said Kaia Sand, executive director of Street Roots, in the press release. “...These three temporary campsite villages demonstrate that we can be creative and constructive in pursuit of public health. It makes me hopeful for what more we can do.”

Two of the villages will be constructed in the Central Eastside (one at SE Water and Main, the other at SE Water and Salmon) and the other will pop up downtown, at NW Broadway and Hoyt. The city expects these sites will begin accepting tenants starting late next week.

The sites will attempt to follow social distancing guidelines by spacing each tent 10 feet apart and regularly disinfecting all communal property. Anyone who displays symptoms of COVID-19 will be screened by a nurse and moved into a hotel room, paid for by Multnomah County.

The spaces aren't open for everyone. These tents are reserved for single adults and couples only who are currently homeless in Multnomah County, and they require a reservation. ("Due to limited capacity," the press release notes, "none of the sites will be able to accommodate those who are dropped off or who walk up to the site.")

JOIN is currently working to create a formal intake process to review and accept prospective visitors. One of the three sites will be reserved for people who identify as LGBTQ+, while another will prioritize spaces for people of color.

Multnomah County's homeless population is disproportionally older and more likely to have underlying health conditions than the general population, putting them at higher risk of contracting a severe case of COVD-19.

As of Tuesday, two houseless people have already tested positive for COVID-19 in Multnomah County. The news of the new outdoor shelters comes after homeless advocates raised concerns about Multnomah County's indoor emergency shelters for not using barriers to prevent the spread of COVID-19 between people who might be carrying the virus without showing symptoms.

In an interview with Street Roots reporter Emily Green, Multnomah County director of communicable disease Kim Toevs said that officials working to support homeless community during this pandemic are "acknowledging that we are already starting at a place that’s vastly far from what gives us the best opportunity to keep everyone as healthy as possible."

Here's an FAQ on how these three new tent villages will operate.