Jan 26, 2024 - News

Portland park gets RV dwellers off the streets

Recreational vehicles parked in a lot for unhoused people in North Portland

The Sunderland RV Safe Park in Northeast Portland now has 42 of its 55 spots filled with people whose RVs were parked on city streets. Photo: Joseph Gallivan and Sarah Grillo/Axios

An experiment to move RV dwellers off residential streets and offer them services and a stable setting is up and going and could be expanded if they find work and permanent housing.

Why it matters: Portland has built seven safe rest villages of tiny homes, with some success. The city spent $19.9 million in 2022-23 of a budget of $56.3 million for 2021-24.

  • The Sunderland RV Safe Park, operated by The Salvation Army, is on Portland Bureau of Transportation land. It is a gated camp in North Portland for those living in RVs and trailers.

By the numbers: Sunderland has 55 spots for up to two people per vehicle.

  • It now has 42 trailers or RVs housing 66 participants since opening in July 2023

Go deeper: Sunderland is one of the city's seven Safe Rest Villages and one Temporary Alternative Shelter Site, which shelters 500 people.

Driving the news: Since 2023, PBOT staff have asked some people living in vehicles on Portland's streets if they would like to move to Sunderland.

  • Non-functional RVs can be towed there, but they must pass a safety check because of the risk of fires.
  • Nearby NE 33rd Drive, known as "RV Row," was cleared two weeks ago.

Zoom in: With their tarps, generators, and hand carts, the occupants look like they are dug in, and there is no limit on how long they can stay.

  • Three resource navigators encourage them to plan for the future, restore their paperwork, connect with health and work resources, and get on a list for affordable permanent housing.
  • Kristi DeLaGarza, Sunderland's Programs Manager, says getting people into permanent housing from Sunderland is possible.
  • "Folks who have been living in RVs for a long time have more barriers to work, such as criminal expungement, evictions, missing state-issued ID, social security and birth certificates, and other housing-ready documents," she told Axios.
  • People who score high on the Vulnerability Index, which measures disability, age, and length of time on the street, have a better chance of getting permanent housing. "Navigating the waiting list is the hardest part," DeLaGarza said.

What they're saying: Nellie "Peaches" Herron was sitting in her car with her two pit bulls, Chevelle and Lucky, waiting to drive a friend to the store, when Axios asked her about the new park.

  • Herron, 55, said she ran away from home at 11 and lived on and off the streets until last year when a friend in Corbett gifted her an old RV.
  • She lived at SE 76th and Flavel Street until last July. Herron has never had a place of her own.
  • "It's a lot harder on the street than it is in there," she said referring to Sunderland. "You don't have to worry about people breaking in, vandalizing your RV or threatening you. It's just a safer feeling."

What's next: Multnomah County is planning a camp for car dwellers at 333 SE 82nd Avenue in Montavilla on an old RV sales lot site.

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