Joint Office of Homeless Services contracts with nonprofit Straightway Services to manage new ‘safe park’ alternative shelter in Montavilla

Multnomah County – March 15, 2023

Photo of an RV dealership that will become the site of the Montavilla safe park village

The location of the new safe park site will be 333 S.E. 82nd Ave., a former RV dealership.

Continuing its work to add shelter capacity in Multnomah County while also building programs through the Supportive Housing Services Measure, the Joint Office of Homeless Services has selected nonprofit provider Straightway Services to manage a new services-focused alternative shelter in Portland’s Montavilla neighborhood.

Located at 333 S.E. 82nd Ave.(link is external), the shelter will be a “safe park” village providing a place for people who live in passenger vehicles (not RVs) to park their vehicles, sleep and access services on their path to securing permanent housing.

The site will open in 2023, with an exact date to be determined. Construction must be completed before the site can open, but the village could open and begin accepting participants as soon as construction is completed

Joint Office contracts with Straightway Services to manage shelter

Straightway Services(link is external), which is calling the shelter The Light Community, will provide on-site, 24/7 services. The site will be fenced and will be available through reservations. Participants will have on-site access to trash service, showers, restrooms, laundry, a kitchenette and housing services and supports.

Founded by Pastor Dwight Minnieweather, Straightway Services has been working in the community for 22 years with programs focused on youth, workforce development, and homeless services.

The organization says its mission is to support dignity, integrity and morals in the community, and is guided by the slogan “failure is not an option.” Minnieweather said that creating a shelter community that connects participants to services will ensure success.

“It means the world to us to operate this shelter and support an alternative way of helping people who sleep in vehicles,” Minnieweather said. In its work supporting houseless community members, Straightway Services has helped people who live in vehicles, and Minnieweather recognized that a safe park village would be more accessible to many of those people than a traditional congregate shelter.

“This will give them a location to stay and pull the cars off the road. And, we’ll make it a community with educational opportunities, employment opportunities and connection to peer mentors,” Minnieweather said. “This will be more than just a place to sleep. It will be a holistic community where people can become self-sufficient.”

Joint Office, County focused on community engagement in Montavilla neighborhood

On Sunday, March 12, about 30 community members attended an event supporting the shelter hosted by Saints Peter & Paul Episcopal Church, located across the street from the site.

It was the second community event that’s been convened since the Joint Office mailed a postcard — including a link to a Frequently Asked Questions webpage — to all addresses within a half-mile of the site.

“We are grateful that so many of our neighbors want to practice compassion and build community with all our Montavilla neighbors, not just those who are in housing,” said the Rev. Sara Fischer, who leads the church. “On Sunday evening, I heard a lot from people who want to connect with unhoused neighbors in supportive ways.”

Fischer said that supporting The Light Community will fit in with the church’s existing work of helping marginalized community members. Among other community work, the church hosts Rahab’s Sisters(link is external), which supports women and gender-diverse people experiencing poverty and homelessness, and partners with the Multnomah County Syringe Exchange.

“I think that having a place where unhoused Montavilla neighbors can park free from anxiety about whether they or their vehicles are in danger, helps the whole community,” Fischer said. “In addition, it creates a space where residents can receive needed services that can help them navigate through the health care system and ideally continue on the path toward permanent housing. As with all of us, that path is going to look different for every person, but having a safe, supportive place to park is an important first step.”

Multnomah County Commissioner Diane Rosenbaum, whose district includes the Montavilla neighborhood, spoke at the community event at the church March 12.

“Quality shelter can provide dignity, safety, and a pathway into housing, and it can be an asset to its neighborhood. That’s our goal with the Montavilla safe park village,” Rosenbaum said. “That goal is much more attainable with the input and constructive involvement of community members, and we’ll depend on them to help inform this program and support its success. I’m energized by the compassion, welcoming and thoughtful engagement of many neighbors I’ve met.”

Montavilla News also published an article(link is external) about plans for the Safe Park village in December.

The Joint Office and Straightway Services will continue to engage with the community as the shelter prepares to open.

Shelter funded by Supportive Housing Services measure

The contract with Straightway Services is being funded by the Metro Supportive Housing Services program. The site is a former RV dealership purchased by Multnomah County in August 2022 with County general funds.

The safe park model, which pairs a secure place to park vehicles with on-site services and housing supports, has been successfully deployed in other parts of the United States and is becoming a model used for alternative shelters in Multnomah County. The Sunderland Safe Rest Village(link is external) will also serve as a safe park shelter.

The model aims to increase safety and access to services for people experiencing vehicular homelessness. In the 2022 Multnomah County Point-In-Time Count that surveyed 1,516 unsheltered households, 19.6% reported sleeping in a vehicle.

The Joint Office’s shelter expansion work is part of its housing-first — but not housing-only — strategy for addressing homelessness. The Joint Office centers housing paired with wraparound services, helping thousands of people a year leave homelessness for homes of their own, while also expanding and prioritizing short-term shelter options.

Despite some incorrect information shared in the community indicating otherwise, this village is separate from, and in addition to, the Safe Rest Villages(link is external) program and the Mayor’s plan for Temporary Alternative Shelter Sites(link is external).

Since 2020, the Joint Office has added hundreds of beds, motel rooms and sleeping units to Multnomah County’s shelter system, including alternative shelter options like the nearby Beacon Village(link is external).