Safe Rest Village opens on the cut over the holiday (June 2023)

Boiling tensions between homeowners and homeless people continue to plague the now open Save Rest Village (SRV) in University Park and a similar proposed development at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Portsmouth.

Those pressures flared anew prior to opening, at an invitation-only tour May 19 at the Peninsula Crossing Safe Rest Village site.

During the tour, City Commissioner Dan Ryan praised the 60-unit project that features individual sleeping pods with on-site addiction and mental health services. The village is the result of a City Council vote in 2021 to create six citywide Safe Rest Village sites. Four have already opened including another one in North Portland at the Sunderland site.

The new Peninsula Crossing village at 6737 N. Syracuse St. is adjacent to the railroad cut and two blocks south of N Lombard Street. The site will be managed and operated by Urban Alchemy, a California non-profit.

In his talk, Ryan described his deep connection to the neighborhood surrounding the village, having grown up in North Portland. He also described experiencing the death of an older brother who battled addictions and died on the street. He emphasized that “the state and city have been failing for years to deal with mental illness and drug addiction.” He lauded the innovative strategy of providing safety and services to help homeless people recover.

Commissioner Dan Ryan speaking about opening of Safe Rest Village

Ryan cited the fact that half of Safe Rest Village residents have gone on to move into more permanent housing. He called the Peninsula Crossing village a response to a “humanitarian crisis” and a place “of hope and healing.”

As Ryan concluded his prepared remarks, he acknowledged that “some people here today aren’t really happy with this.” That became apparent when he began taking audience questions.

George Siebert is 77 years old and lives at 6623 N. Syracuse Street. His home abuts the Village. “My wife and I are very distressed and living in anxiety because our kitchen window is only feet away from the restrooms and laundry rooms,” he said. Siebert later told the North Peninsula Review that he’s visited other SRV facilities and found that “none of them had any building—not to mention toilets—closer than 40 feet to existing homes.

“I don’t understand why the SRV provides such a big area for gardening and for residents to run their dogs, where they could put restrooms, but instead has to place them 14 feet away from my house. We’re not trying to sabotage a noble effort to help unfortunate people, but what about how we neighbors have been treated?” Siebert explained, “We’ve lived here for 42 years and paid off our house. Now, if we need to sell, who’d want to buy it?”

Gary Horton, a realtor who lives nearby, similarly asked Ryan and Urban Alchemy staff for statistics on how other SRV projects have affected home values.

Other neighbors asked about villagers’ use of drugs, and pressed hard on that to Kirkpatrick Tyler, Urban Alchemy government and community relations director. “We don’t require sobriety [for entrance],” Tyler said, “but we make resources available such as AA and rehab groups.” He explained that the facility has a low-barrier entrance, in order to enable more homeless people to qualify who’d otherwise have nowhere else to go. Tyler said that if residents use drugs, trained staff would do a wellness check by knocking on their pod door every 30 minutes to make sure they respond and then direct them to services.

When another neighbor asked, “Will the Portland People’s Outreach Project (PPOP) be allowed to hand out needles and food like they’re doing here on the Peninsula Crossing every Saturday?” Tyler answered, “We are neutral toward PPOP.”

Tyler also answered concerns about unauthorized camping outside the village, up and down the Peninsula Crossing Trail. He explained the village would have an exterior 150-to-250-foot “No Camping zone.” He acknowledged that decisions about removal of campers depend on a matrix and it may take some time before enforcement of that policy.

University Park Neighborhood Association (UPNA) chair Tom Karwaki gave one last comment, telling Ryan that the larger neighborhood does support the project. UPNA is working to write a Good Neighborhood Agreement with the city to try to help reduce negative impacts from the Safe Rest Village and lessen unauthorized camping and drug use.  Ryan supports Good Neighbor Agreement discussions.

Following the tour, crews from Urban Alchemy and other partners including the Street Services Coordination Center helped moved individuals living in tents on the Peninsula Cross Trail into the new SRV village.  A SRV news release described the move as peaceful and dignified. 

The trail will remain closed through June 16th, for Portland Parks & Recreation to determine and act on trail restoration needs.

(The North Peninsula Review will continue to report on Safe Rest Villages in North Portland.)