Despite efforts to contain Portland’s widespread homelessness, a recent report unveiled that the city’s homeless population has increased by 10% since the city’s homeless crisis began two years ago. In a new effort to provide some stability, the city is testing out its first government-supported homeless village.

It’s a homeless camp with a twist. Residents of Kenton Women’s Village — formerly known as the POD Village — reside in fourteen tiny houses reserved for homeless women in Portland. The village provides a community atmosphere with oversight and ongoing support from Catholic Charities, a non-profit organization. It is a cost-friendly alternative to traditional homeless shelters which are not effective for everyone who needs a place to stay.

Portland Explores New Territory in Homelessness Fight

Kenton Women’s Village is a one year pilot project that emerged from a collaboration between the City of Portland, the Joint Office of Homeless Services, Catholic Charities, and the Village Coalition. The project received strong support from a majority of neighborhood residents and top local officials such as Mayor Ted Wheeler and Multnomah County Chairwoman Deborah Kafoury. It officially opened on June 10th.

The goal of the project is to experiment with new methods to combat homelessness, a rampant problem throughout greater Portland. The fleet of homes lies on N Argyle Street on property owned by the Portland Development Commission. Each individual pod is assigned to one resident. At 8 feet by 12, the homes are too small to have their own bathroom and cooking facilities. They are not equipped with running water or electricity; however, each home is equipped with solar panels to charge a cell phone and locks on doors. Residents share a community bathroom and kitchen.

Individual homes like these may save the city public funds in the long run, as they are less expensive to provide and manage than a homeless shelter. These homes can work well for homeless citizens who cannot thrive in shelters; those who have difficulty getting along with others can resort to their own pods for privacy. That is not to say that conflicts do not arise in Kenton Women’s Village.

Eighteen days after the village began to accept residents two of the women left. One cited verbal abuse and constant conflict for reasons she voluntarily left; the other woman was evicted. Addiction and mental health issues are significant problems faced by many of Portland’s homeless residents. In fact, 61% of Multnomah county’s homeless report living with some kind of disability. These issues may contribute to the constant quarreling between residents at Kenton Village. Still, most of the residents are thrilled to have their own space. One resident in particular enjoys the sense of community and her ability to decorate her own home with family photos.

Village Services and Amenities

Catholic Charities of Oregon co-manages the village and closely monitors resident activity. The village will soon acquire a secondary village manager and a night guard, in addition to mental health services and upgrades to the layout to enhance privacy. Residents are also partaking in a communal garden and will receive the following important services:

  • Common buildings for toilets, showers, food storage, cooking and dining
  • Mailbox and address
  • Regular trash pickup
  • Community meetings and social events
  • Conflict resolution
  • Addiction and mental health treatment referrals
  • Smoking cessation support
  • On-site leadership development and educational programming
  • Integrated case management

Unlike makeshift homeless villages in the city which can house residents for several years at a time, Kenton Women’s Village is intended as transitional housing. The goal is to provide a stepping stone into permanent housing. Executive Director Richard Birkel of Catholic Charities does not expect anyone to reside in Kenton Village for over a year.

Homelessness is not just an unfortunate situation for those who do not have homes; it is a safety issue for those who are homeless and the community at large. The city here is taking a new direction in order to develop a model that will help Portland’s homeless get a hold of the services they need to reintegrate into society. Whether that be mental health or addiction treatment, or acquiring the skills necessary to maintain employment, it’s important to get people off the streets.

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