City looks to Dignity Village as potential model for Hazelnut Grove
The city is early discussions about the long-term vision of Hazelnut Grove, the tiny-home encampment in North Portland's Overlook neighborhood.
Commissioner Chloe Eudaly's director of policy, Jamey Duhamel, says that their office and the city are looking at evolving the site to be more on par with the city's famous Dignity Village, rather than the Kenton Village, all in North Portland. (According to state law, municipalities are allowed two parcels of land for campgrounds that provide transitional housing accommodations for people who "lack permanent shelter and cannot be placed in other low income housing.")
"We are interested in creating a more formal agreement with Hazelnut Grove, but those discussions haven't begun yet. We're probably looking at something like a Dignity model than a Kenton model," Duhamel says.
While the Overlook Neighborhood Association has been pressing to have the Kenton model brought to Overlook, Duhamel says Kenton was a specific project that began with an entire outline of who would live there.
"It's not really replicable in this circumstance, because Hazelnut Grove has existed there for two years. They've organically grown into a different kind of model," she says. The Kenton village was designed for 14 homeless women as a year-long project where the women will then transition into housing.
Chris Trejbal, chair of the Overlook Neighborhood Association, disagrees.
"I don't think the Dignity model would be appropriate," he says, adding that they're looking at the Kenton model. "Dignity is successful in part because it's in a remote location. Kenton and Hazelnut Grove are located in places where residents are nearby. That creates certain other issues that need to be resolved."
Dignity Village, which was established in 2000 out of a protest, is considered a transitional village and has a partnership with JOIN, a nonprofit that employs a social service worker there. It has inspired villages elsewhere, including Hazelnut Grove itself, and also in Seattle. It became a city-sanctioned village in 2004. With space for up to 60 people, according to its website, folks have a maximum of two years of living at the village before they must find alternative housing. However, that hasn't always been strictly enforced, and some have been there for longer. Hazelnut Grove has 19 people living at the site.
The city also is willing to consider moving Hazelnut Grove to a different piece of land in the future, but not until a replacement site is identified — and not until things can resolve with Overlook.
"At this point our office and the city isn't interested in displacing Hazelnut Grove without an adequate replacement, and if they're going to continue to stay where they are at, we feel there should be an agreement," Duhamel says.
The neighborhood association has been at odds with the Hazelnut Grove encampment. Recently the group proposed revisions to their bylaws that would prohibit homeless folks from being members. The groups have been engaging in a mediation process which they hope will culminate in a Good Neighborhood Agreement. It's being facilitated by the Office of Neighborhood Involvement and Resolutions Northwest.
Mayor Ted Wheeler's office is supportive of the effort.
"We strongly believe that Overlook Neighborhood and Hazelnut Grove have some healing to do with one another before progressing," Michelle Plambeck, spokeswoman for Wheeler, said in an email.
Duhamel says through the mediation process, some improvements have been made, especially concerning the issue of the camp being in a wildfire zone.
A fire marshal inspected the property recently to clear more brush, install fire extinguishers and establish more rules about open burning, Duhamel says.
"So you know, we've done a bunch of work to try and mitigate some of the concerns, and we felt that was moving them toward a mutually agreeable resolution," she says. She expressed worry about the new bylaw proposal potentially harming the process.
"But we'll have to wait and see," Duhamel says.
The neighborhood will vote on the matter at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at Trillium Charter School, 5420 N. Interstate Ave.
This story was updated to include a response from Chris Trejbal, the chair of the Overlook Neighborhood Association.