RV homeless campsite set for St. Johns (Nov. 2023)

A city-managed RV homeless encampment with nearly 200 spaces is coming soon to the St. Johns area, Mayor Ted Wheeler announced Oct. 26. 

The camp will also have tent and pod spaces in the city-owned property at 10505 N. Portland Road near Columbia Slough. “The need in our community far exceeds available resources,” Wheeler said, “and I look forward to opening this next site as quickly as we can to help get vulnerable Portlanders off the streets.”

Map of St. Johns neighborhood RV campsite
Map of St. Johns neighborhood RV campsite

The facility will include shared bathrooms, showers, kitchens and mental health and other support services. City staff estimated the site will open in three months.

Local reaction varied from enthusiastic to chilly. “I’m in favor of the mayor’s proposal,” said Sarah Barnett, board member of the Cathedral Park Neighborhood Association. Many residents have complained of individuals living in RVs and campers illegally parking on residential streets for months. “I don’t think it’s good for our community to have people living on our streets and sidewalks,” Barnett said.

But the St. Johns Neighborhood Association (SJNA) declined to endorse the project while seeking continuing city dialogue. SJNA sent the North Peninsula Review a statement saying that a City representative met with the board and “…recommended working with SJNA on establishing a Good Neighbor Agreement and partnering on hosting a community meeting to inform the larger community of the project.” The SJNA statement noted the City representative saying that the site would be operating in about three months.

RV campsite set for St. Johns at 10505 N. Portland Road near the Columbia Slough.
RV campsite set for St. Johns at 10505 N. Portland Road near the
Columbia Slough.

“At this time the SJNA board has decided not to proceed with working with the City on establishing a Good Neighbor Agreement for the operation of the TASS (Portland Temporary Alternative Shelter Sites,” the statement read. “We as a board felt that participating in a Good Neighbor Agreement was more of a formality than actual collaboration since the plan was in motion regardless if we collaborate on this or not,” the statement read. The SJNA board concluded that it wanted to continue discussions with Portland City leadership as the RV/camper project unfolds.

The facility will be part of the TASS program designed to create large-scale sites that can efficiently provide social services for the homeless in relatively isolated areas. Urban Alchemy will be the site provider. They currently manage three City-sanctioned shelter sites including the Safe Rest Village near the Peninsula Crossing Trail between Lombard St. and Willamette Blvd.

The 10505 North Portland Rd. location is less than a mile by car from the closest neighborhood. A sampling of public opinion nearby at the Over Easy Bar & Breakfast on the corner of N. Fessenden and N. Columbia Way revealed optimism and some anxiety.

“I like the concept of helping homeless people like this, but I worry about some people taking advantage of it,” said a woman who identified herself as Rachel. A few feet away at the bar, Gabriel Sosa also supported the project’s intent saying, “I’ve heard a guy say that the rules in camps make it feel like a prison, but we gotta have rules.”