The first temporary alternative mass shelter site is slated to open later this month at an inner Southeast Portland industrial space known as the Clinton Triangle.
What was initially pitched by Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler’s office last fall as part of a $27 million homelessness plan to serve up to 250 people in tents at each of three designated sites, has evolved significantly. The first outdoor temporary alternative shelter site, or TASS, as the city calls it, looks more akin to one of the Safe Rest Villages already in operation.
The TASS will open just weeks after the city’s recent daytime camping restrictions take effect, albeit with a slow rollout and legal challenges already in play. Residents must be referred by a city, county, or nonprofit outreach partner. The site won't serve walk-up guests.
Nestled between the Brooklyn and Hosford-Abernethy neighborhoods, a large asphalt lot at the former Stacy & Whitbeck industrial space at Southeast 13th Avenue and Powell Boulevard will soon house 140 sleeping pods, which can accommodate up to 200 people. Each pod has an air conditioning and heating unit, and a bed. Showers, toilets and a laundry area have been installed in a converted shipping container on the lot. At the west end of the site, an industrial commercial building will include a kitchen and storage space, and serve as onsite staff office space.
The low-barrier, adult shelter site will be managed by Urban Alchemy, the California-based company that now manages two other homeless villages in Portland. Urban Alchemy will provide round-the-clock staffing and at least one daily meal for residents, who will also have access to case workers and health services provided by Central City Concern, Health Share, and CareOregon.
Residents must check in and out when entering or leaving, and follow security measures, including a prohibition on weapons.
Kirkpatrick Tyler, chief of government and community affairs for Urban Alchemy, lauded the efforts to open the shelter.
“The fight against homelessness is the fight for our lives,” Tyler said. “When we’re in the fight for our lives, we double down on the most innovative ideas that allow us to break new ground in how we serve people and how we see one another.”
Residents are expected to start moving in at the new TASS later this month, on a referral basis.
Portland city commissioners, alongside Multnomah County leaders, unveiled the new alternative shelter site Monday, July 17.
Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler called the TASS an “innovative approach” to the city’s skyrocketing rate of homelessness.
“There’s hundreds of unsanctioned camps spread out over all 146 square miles of our city, and because of the dispersed nature of our unsheltered homeless population, there has been no consistent way of successfully providing outreach to those in need,” Wheeler said.
The Clinton Triangle TASS is one of three shelters the city is opening this month. Two Safe Rest Villages–Sunderland RV Park in Northeast Portland, and Reedway Safe Rest Village in Southeast Portland–have also started accepting residents.
Wheeler’s initial TASS plan drew heavy criticism from homeless advocates, and comparisons to a “concentration camp” approach to transitional shelter. It was largely the brainchild of Sam Adams, the mayor’s former chief of staff who also served as mayor of Portland over a decade ago.
The change in site details–from a mass tent-based shelter for up to 250 people, to a pod-based village–is due in large part to a lack of funding for the initial iteration of the plan.
When Gov. Tina Kotek took office, she rejected funding for the site, noting it didn’t qualify as shelter eligible for state or federal funding.
“The governor made her funding contingent upon us using pods, which we were happy to do,” Wheeler said Monday. “The only reason we didn’t do pods initially is that the cost of pods is a lot more than tents.”
Wheeler noted the site still includes designated areas for tents, because some residents prefer tents to pods, but the vast majority of the footprint will be occupied by pods.
“The key is to get them in here and have them begin to work with service coordinators and be connected to whatever services they need to get off and stay off the streets,” Wheeler added.
The TASS was the byproduct of city plans, but will include help from the Joint Office of Homeless Services. Wheeler said the city has funding for three mass shelter sites, and hopes to secure additional funds once the others are up and operational.
Multnomah County Chair Jessica Vega Pederson said the new TASS “is built in a way that utilizes thoughtful, equitable, and trauma-informed strategies.”
Vega Pederson said the site will help bolster the number of available shelter beds in the region.
“We know one of the things we need most right now is increased capacity across our system,” she said. “From shelter that’s congregate, to alternative shelter, to long-term affordable housing, we need this capacity because what we’re really talking about are people’s lives.”