By CORY ELIA
The houselessness situation throughout Portland has continued and, in some areas, increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many innovative ideas are being implemented to address the situation like housing the most vulnerable of the houseless population in motel rooms through the tri-county.
However, a forced shutdown planned by the City of Portland of Hazelnut Grove, a tiny pod village in the Overlook neighborhood, has resulted in the creation of a petition against it— and the village’s current residents feeling their voices are not being heard.
“What we want is for the City to be good to the original promise to move us to land we can continue to be self-governed” stated Barbra Weber one of the main organizers and current residents of Hazelnut Grove.
Screenshot of petition on actionnetwork.org, taken on Wednesday afternoon
In the petition it is stated “residents of the Hazelnut Grove Village are being threatened with displacement by the city even as the pandemic ravages our community, the Center for Disease Control has encouraged all people to shelter in place, and Multnomah County has enacted and renewed an eviction moratorium.”
The tiny pod village of Hazelnut Grove sits nestled alongside Greeley and Interstate Avenues tucked alongside a section of bike trail running through North Portland.
When the independent and self-governing nature of the village conflicting with the demands of the Overlook Neighborhood Association, a move was planned for the village by the neighborhood association and the City of Portland.
“Welcome to Hazelnut Grove” on Vimeo
In a press release issued January 18, 2020, it is explained “In 2017, the city bowed to pressure from the Overlook Neighborhood Association to remove Hazelnut Grove from its current location and promised to find a permanent location for the self-governed village.”
Hazelnut Grove had occupied the space as a village for years at that point. After much searching, a location in St. Johns was selected, at the St. Johns Christian Church, and construction of the village began.
The City of Portland, the Multnomah County Joint Office of Homeless Services, which operates under the name A Home for Everyone, and the non-profit Do Good Multnomah partnered up to construct and open a transitional housing village in St. Johns.
These promises by the City did not play out as stated according to the press release which goes on to say:
“In 2018, Hazelnut Grove was invited to move to St. Johns to a village that would be self-governed and financially managed in partnership with Do Good Multnomah, a social service nonprofit organization. Residents of Hazelnut Grove and Do Good worked to create a memorandum of understanding and policies for the village. By 2019, those agreements disappeared and the city’s promise morphed from Hazelnut Grove relocating as a self-governed village into “qualified” individual residents being allowed to move into a village managed by a social service agency.”
In a statement posted online, the City wrote that Hazelnut Grove will be “decommissioned” next month, after the St. Johns Village is ready to accept residents.
From their statement, the City said that “about half of the 15 people” living at Hazelnut Grove
have accepted been offered spots at the St. Johns Village. Outreach workers have offered other options, while respecting residents’ choice to make their own plans.
Residents of the village have asked the City for a full relocation of the village with the current residents. While the village in St. Johns was originally offered as that solution barriers such as background checks for “qualified” individuals have prevented some Hazelnut Grove residents from applying to residence at the new village.
Some of those residents with criminal records could be a result of unfair targeting by Portland Police. Reporting from 2018 shows a disproportionate policing practice toward the houseless residents of Portland for minor infractions other citizens are not subject to charges for.
According to a website for the village in St. Johns it will provide, “case management, electricity, plumbing, community space and a fully functioning kitchen — for 19 people.” Recently on December 19th, 2020 the village in St. Johns was vandalized.
The creation of the St. Johns Village ran into some issues when a newly elected St. Johns Neighborhood Association in 2019 openly opposed its placement in the neighborhood. In December of 2019, threats of lawsuits were issued towards the City of Portland and its partners by the neighborhood association.
Since that time a new board of has been voted in and that opposition to the village was dropped resulting in the village in St. Johns to be opening soon for residents. As a result of that, the City is attempting to force the closure of Hazelnut Grove and eviction of the villagers who have not left or found a new home.
There are further issues as well with the situation. For years, there have been concerns about the property of which the village resides due to it being an area prone to landslides, a potential fire hazard zone, and the soil beneath the village being potentially contaminated.
The main issue for the residents of Hazelnut Grove is that the shutdown of the village is occurring when according to their press release “the city has still not presented a viable location to fulfill its original promise to Hazelnut Grove”
Cory Elia is a journalist, photographer, videographer, documentary director & producer, radio personality & podcaster. His journalistic focus is on politics, protest, and poverty.
Facebook: Cory Elia