Church project encounters pushback (June 2023)

St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church has partnered with the non-profit WeShine to develop a small-pod “micro-village” on the church parking lot at 7600 N. Hereford Ave, one block north of Lombard.

The ten-pod project will be a “neighborhood-based micro-village,” offering a temporary place to stay and transitional services for Portland’s vulnerable homeless population, the St. Andrew’s website reports.

St. Andrews Episcopal Church micro-village
Tiny houses make up the village

Rev. Jennifer Creswell, church pastor, is keenly aware that some neighbors vehemently oppose the project.

“People are suffering from lack of housing,” Creswell said, “and my faith compels me to help create a community where housing is available to all, regardless of who they are or what they’ve done.” 

Some project critics are in the pews of St. Andrew’s own congregation. Richard Tennant’s parents helped build the current church and his family has been associated with St. Andrews for four generations.

Tennant and others criticize WeShine’s policy of not requiring residents to accept drug treatment as a condition to living at the village.

“The associated behaviors with drug use—are troubling,” he said. “Drug use is surrounded by other crimes including purchasing drugs, which supports the manufacturing of drugs, and the drug user often has to commit crimes to get money to pay for their drugs,” he added.

Rev. Creswell responded, “My perspective (not necessarily St Andrew’s or WeShine’s) is that drugs are already present in the neighborhood. Church members and myself pick up drug paraphernalia on our daily rounds of the property. Furthermore,” she said, “I don’t believe that housing should be leveraged as a reward for people who are able to get and stay sober.”

“Guests will be held accountable for their behavior but like other citizens living in their own homes, have the right to privacy within their sleeping pods,” Creswell said. WeShine staff will work with guests continually to reduce drug or alcohol abuse while also supporting them to seek treatment, if they are willing,” she added. 

The St. Andrew’s website cites the nearby Catholic Charities-operated Kenton Women’s Village as an example of a similar, successful program with a high rate of transitioning its residents into permanent housing.

Critics claim the comparison to Kenton Women’s Village is faulty because that facility has more rigorous standards. Catholic Charities spokesperson Ed Langlois said, “We do police background checks and screen out people who’ve been found guilty of violent criminal activity or drug manufacturing or distribution. We follow a harm reduction model basing decision on people’s behavior, not their additions. However,” Langlois said, “we do not allow drugs or alcohol, including marijuana, to be used on site.”

“They’re trying to impose this,” said Tennant, who lives three blocks away. “They try to label us as ‘not trying to help the homeless,’ but this is just a disagreement about the safety of the neighborhood.” 

Bishop Diana Akiyama of the Episcopal Diocese of Oregon, endorses the project. St. Andrew’s parishioners include Oregon Gov. Tina Kotek, whom Crewswell said supports the effort. Kotek’s communication office did not respond to a request for comment from the North Peninsula Review. 

WeShine will invite neighborhood association and neighborhood watch group members to work with the city on a Good Neighborhood Agreement.

Tennant isn’t optimistic that WeShine will opt for a different approach. Susan Landauer, a longtime North Portland activist, suggests a compromise. “Most neighbors’ greatest fear is of homeless men with addiction problems,” she said. “If WeShine would adjust the project to just female clients, it would get more neighborhood support,” she said. Landauer, who lives near St. Andrews, will present her proposal to church leaders, WeShine and the city/county Joint Office of Homeless Services office.