Clackamas Co. to get 30 pods for homeless vets

The board set aside $300,000 to help homeless veterans

The proposed site off Southeast 115th Avenue south of Highway 212 in Clackamas County for pods for homeless veterans, June 28, 2017 (KOIN)

CLACKAMAS COUNTY, Ore. (KOIN) — Temporary transitional housing for homeless veterans in Clackamas County will include 30 sleeping pods under a plan approved Tuesday by the county Board of Commissioners.

The proposed site off Southeast 115th Avenue south of Highway 212 — land owned by the county’s development agency — would have to undergo zoning changes. Public hearings are planned for the summer.

Catholic Charities, the bidder with the most complete and feasible grant application, proposed the 30 pods, a community kitchen, showers and restrooms, a community room and a fully-equipped work shed on-site.

The county and the non-profit will begin negotiating an operations plan. The board set aside $300,000 to help develop the shelter community.

The group’s goal is to have the community amenities and 15 sleeping pods completed and ready for use before December 2017. The first residents of the shelter will be in charge of building the remaining 15 pods during the first 5 months.

Very early stages

Rick Birkel, the executive director for Catholic Charities in Portland, June 28, 2017 (KOIN)
Rick Birkel, the executive director for Catholic Charities in Portland, June 28, 2017 (KOIN)

Rick Birkel, the executive director for Catholic Charities, told KOIN 6 News this project is in the very early stages.

“I think our general interest is finding new, creative ways to deal with houselessness and homelessness,” Birkel said. He added about half the homeless population in Clackamas County may be veterans.

They’re looking for more options for transitional housing that they think “will be for the better of all our houseless community members, including veterans.”

He drew a distinction between transitional housing and “self-governing community pieces” like Dignity Village.

“This will be a very time-limited placement for people. It’s safe, it’s a way for you to have people all in one location where we can deliver case-management services in an effective way,” he said.

Veterans may “already be wired to understand” how to be successful in this type of community because of their past military experience. The personal pods will be built with the PSU architecture program and will be safe and warm, he said.

“One of the charms, I think, they are all different. Each one can be personalized and made very different, but attractive.”

Fourteen tiny homes in the Kenton neighborhood of Portland, June 8, 2017 (KOIN)
Fourteen tiny homes in the Kenton neighborhood of Portland, June 8, 2017 (KOIN)

He added this could be similar to the women’s village in the Kenton neighborhood of Portland that recently opened. Birkel re-iterated the Clackamas pods are short-term housing, maybe up to a year.

“The county will ultimately have to make that decision base on input they receive,” he told KOIN 6 News.

‘Pods not good enough for vets’

Doug Hoerth, who is a Navy veteran and has a shop near the proposed site, is opposed to the pods. The idea, he said, is not good enough for veterans.

The county can do better than “giving them a little tiny barn, nothing better than a chicken coop,” Hoerth told KOIN 6 News. “I think they deserve more than that.”

“We already have enough trouble with people who roam in here for various activities.”

Birkel understands the skepticism, but also understands homelessness is a challenge for everyone.

“This is a good faith effort to try something different, particularly for veterans in this case, who, I think everyone agrees should be given a fair shot at getting back on their feet and getting into permanent housing,” he said.

“If this can work in a way that actually makes the community a better place for everyone to live, then I think it will be a success.”