St. Johns RV campsite plan emerges (Dec. 2023)

Key details are emerging for the City’s new 150-unit homeless encampment to open near North Columbia Boulevard in early 2024. 

The facility will have 130 parking spots for RVs and campers, 20 pods for individuals and no tent spaces, said Hank Smith, a project staffer for Mayor Ted Wheeler. The facility will be at 10505 N. Portland Rd., about one-quarter mile north of the closest Portsmouth and St. Johns neighborhoods’ residential areas.

What is not known yet is how many homeless people now living in North Portland will be able to reside at the managed camp.

“We don’t have a geographic requirement that people must live in North Portland to qualify to move into the facility,” Snow said, “because if we did, people would move here just for that reason.”

But the City wants to be responsive those St. Johns and Kenton-area residents upset over homeless people camping on City streets. “We want to build a method to help neighbors make referrals for the site,” Snow said. The City is hosting a town hall at 6:30 pm, Thursday, Dec. 7, at the St. Johns Community Center to discuss the issue.

Two miles south of the planned RV village, is a tiny village of four vehicles near the bottom of N. Burlington Avenue by the Willamette River. Michele Pace, 48, seems to be the informal leader. “We really try to keep our areas picked up, clean and quiet,” said Pace who lives in an undriveable vehicle with a broken radiator. She sees the new RV village planned near the Columbia Slough as “positive and necessary.”

Jeffrey Mertens and Michelle Pace
Jeffrey Mertens and Michelle Pace

Her neighbor, Joe Dulin, an unemployed carpenter, has been homeless for three years because of lack of work and personal issues that have caused several suicide attempts. He wants to move into the city camp as soon as it opens in order to get off the streets. “We don’t like being posted or being a problem to anybody,” he explained. Dulin likes that the new site will have electrical outlets since his camper has no electricity for heat or refrigeration. He also likes the idea of shared kitchens, showers and laundry facilities.

The new 150-unit facility won’t work for every local homeless person. “I won’t be moving in,” said an RV-dweller parked next to Columbia Park who identified herself as Dee. “Camps can have people with undiagnosed issues, and I don’t want to be around them,” she said, “It’s a safety issue to me.”

The planned RV camp location near Columbia Slough is the second of the City’s ambitious Temporary Alternative Shelter Sites (TASS) that together create six large-scale sites that can efficiently provide social services, including addiction and mental health care. The City has picked relatively isolated areas to minimize impact on nearby residential neighborhoods. 

The first TASS encampment opened in July at 1490 S.E. Gideon St. with 180 residents, mainly in pods. The city is designing TASS sites for an expected three-year duration and expects the average resident stay to be several months.

Urban Alchemy, the organization that currently manages the City’s Peninsula Safe Rest Village near the Peninsula Crossing Trail, will be the site provider. 

The St. Johns Neighborhood Association (SJNA) board has declined to endorse the new project and previously sent a statement requesting more discussion with City staff. SJNA leaders will give an update at the next general meeting 7pm, Monday, Dec. 11. Check for location details and Zoom links.