Mayor’s office: North Portland’s Hazelnut Grove will move

The neighborhood association and camp have been at odds since it was established

A look inside the Hazelnut Grove homeless camp in Portland, October 20, 2017 (KOIN)
A look inside the Hazelnut Grove homeless camp in Portland, October 20, 2017 (KOIN)

PORTLAND, Ore. (PORTLAND TRIBUNE) — Disputes in North Portland’s Overlook neighborhood in recent months over the Hazelnut Grove homeless village appear to be fizzling.

The neighborhood association and camp have been at odds since it was established in 2015, first as tents and then evolving into small wooden structures for about 13 people.

Recently, a member of the Hazelnut Grove village, Melissa Castor, was elected to the neighborhood association board.

“I want to bridge the gaps. There’s an invisible wall that I want to break down and bring closer community and friendships through this because that’s what neighbors are for,” Castor said.

The association attempted to revise bylaws to exclude people without an official address. (The city said homeless people can participate and threatened to stop recognizing the association.)

The two groups had been trying to work out a Good Neighborhood Agreement, going through a mediation process organized by the Office of Neighborhood Involvement, with no success. Mayor Ted Wheeler’s office had been mainly hands-off, wanting the process to work itself out. But since it didn’t, his office is taking more of an “active role.”

And, they’re taking a more definitive stance on the camp’s tenure, telling the neighborhood: It’s not permanent and it will move.

Wheeler’s policy advisor Seraphie Allen attended a neighborhood meeting Tuesday to tell them as much.

“I think the information that was going around was that that would be a permanent site and it’s not. And it won’t, especially when we’re done with our housing emergency,” she said. “It’s not zoned properly, so we’re going to need to find a better solution in terms of location for the Hazelnut Grove community.”

Hazelnut Grove was formed by activists around the time the housing state of emergency was declared two years ago. The emergency was recently extended 18 more months.

The city is looking for a new location and are open to suggestions, including business or church partnerships. A new position at the Office of Neighborhood Involvement, as part of the person’s role, will be scouting out new land for such alternative housing sites.

They’re also looking to fit Hazelnut Grove into local government’s “continuum” — meaning oversight and resources provided by the city-county Joint Office of Homeless Services, similar to that of the tiny home village in Kenton neighborhood, or Dignity Village in Northeast Portland. Those are both sanctioned with oversight by the city and social service providers.

As of right now, Hazelnut Grove is a self-governed camp with no services, but occasional help from the city with things like fire extinguishers to keep it safe. Although some members of Hazelnut Grove have said they were skeptical of outside oversight, didn’t want the site to move or to ever leave the village, others are are more open to the idea.

Bob Brimmer, 24, has lived at the grove for two years and came to Portland from upstate New York. He wanted to go to school but couldn’t afford college application fees, he said. He ended up in the Pacific Northwest for the temperate weather.

“I guess becoming more like Dignity [Village] has its advantages, because you have that tag of legitimacy that we lack currently, which makes us kind of an easy target for the ire of people who dislike the houseless,” he said. “Getting rid of that would be nice.”

But Brimmer adds what might come attached to the oversight is a sticking point. He believes that the city and county are just trying to “revamp the same old processes” and is doubtful that all homeless people will want to get in permanent supportive housing, which local government sees as a better long-term solution to the crisis than villages. Some advocates have been pushing the village model as an alternative way of living.

“The supportive housing thing totally works and will help a lot of people, but … I think getting [homeless] people to participate in it will be a huge challenge. They just see it as another program that they have to jump through all these hoops for,” Brimmer said.

Neighborhood board chair and vocal critic of the camp’s location, Chris Trejbal, is happy that the mayor’s office is handling the process since the mediation wasn’t successful.

“The mediation was such a disaster, we didn’t want to go back to that. We want to work with the city’s oversight,” he said.

At the Tuesday meeting, many neighbors were interested in continuing the conversation about Hazelnut Grove including some saying they did not share the position of ridding the neighborhood of the camp.

In some cases, they felt their neighborhood had been improperly represented on the entire issue.

There’s no set timeline for when the camp will move, and if history is any indication, it could take some time. It took years for Right 2 Dream Too to be relocated.

Trejbal hopes the city can find Hazelnut Grove a new spot after a year.

The Portland Tribune is a KOIN 6 News media partner