May 17, 2023 - News

Portland's tiny home shelter program shows success

A photo of three tiny homes.

Three tiny homes within the Menlo Park Safe Rest Village site. Photo: Courtesy of city of Portland

As Portland prepares to open its first mass shelter site this summer, Multnomah County released data showing how many people at its Safe Rest Villages — the tiny home program for those experiencing homelessness — have later moved into more stable housing.

Why it matters: Of the three operating Safe Rest Villages — which have time limits on how long people can stay — the majority of people who have exited have moved into permanent or temporary housing, according to county data released earlier this month.

Meanwhile, in April, Portland officials tapped California-based nonprofit Urban Alchemy to run the new homeless shelter on the city's Central Eastside — and approved a $50 million contract for the nonprofit to potentially operate others in the future.

  • However, of the emergency shelters Urban Alchemy currently operates in Los Angeles and San Francisco, none have a success rate as high as the Safe Rest Village program, according to recent data obtained by The Oregonian.

The numbers: According to the numbers provided by the nonprofit, less than 2% of people at Urban Alchemy's Los Angeles tent site moved into permanent housing, while 44% returned to the street as of February.

  • Of the people who left the Safe Rest Village program between July 2022 and March 2023, 53% moved into permanent or temporary housing.

What they're saying: "We do find those results very encouraging," Bryan Aptekar, a spokesperson for the city of Portland, told Axios in an email. "On the macro scale, it's too soon for us to know what impact this may have on those who are considered chronically homeless."

  • Alex Comisar, a spokesperson for Urban Alchemy, said the nonprofit's goal is to "get people off the street as quickly as possible," but cited nationwide housing supply shortages as a factor in transitioning people into long-term housing.

Context: Safe Rest Villages are small, with a maximum of 50 sleeping units, and residents have limits on how long they can stay (between six months and two years).

  • The emergency shelter site Urban Alchemy plans to open has no set time limits and can accommodate up to 150 people.

What's next: As Portland wrestles with how to curb rising chronic homelessness, the city is currently constructing three additional Safe Rest Villages, and the Central Eastside outdoor shelter site is set to open at 1490 SE Gideon, just north of Powell Boulevard, in the next few months.


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