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Portland Audubon Statement on Errol Heights Safe Rest Village
Portland Audubon has a long history of intersectional work related to houseless/homeless issues. Addressing houselessness is integral to our goal of building complete healthy, sustainable, equitable communities. Houselessness has significant direct impacts on our local parks, natural areas, and natural resources. Members of the houseless community are among the most severely impacted by environmental degradation. The current state of houselessness in the Portland Metro Region represents a humanitarian crisis that no organization committed to environmental justice can ignore. A holistic response requires all sectors to think differently about the policies and practices we apply across our urban landscape. Portland Audubon has reached out to the City to express interest in working collaboratively on houselessness issues related to natural areas.
On Thursday, September 30, Portland Audubon was contacted by Commissioner Dan Ryan’s office to give us a heads-up about their intent to site a Safe Rest Village on property located immediately adjacent to Errol Heights Natural Area that had been acquired by the Portland Bureau of Environmental Services as part of a floodplain restoration project. Portland Audubon is supportive of the City’s Safe Rest Village Policy and recognizes that some villages are likely to be located in close proximity or adjacent to natural areas. In the case of the Errol Heights Safe Rest Village, however, the site was not included in a list of nearly 70 sites released by the City in July for public review. The City reached out to Portland Audubon only minutes before the public announcement.
Based on subsequent conversations that we had with City staff late Thursday and early Friday, we sent Commissioner Ryan’s Office (cc’d to Commissioner Mapps and the Mayor’s Offices) an email flagging four “potential issues”: flooding, exposure to contaminants, legal concerns, and conflicts with the intended use for which the site was purchased. We also noted that the information that we were providing was preliminary since the last minute notification forced us to gather information quickly. Since it was preliminary, we did not share this email with the public or the media. The potential issues we raised could have significant implications for the health of both residents of the Safe Rest Village and the local environment and we believe that is our responsibility to raise them and the City’s responsibility to address them.
Somebody within the City released our email to Willamette Week. An article published on Sunday, October 3 by Willamette Week contained some significant inaccuracies. For the record, Portland Audubon has not taken a position either supporting or opposing the Errol Heights Safe Rest Village.The issues that we flagged may or may not have good answers–the purpose of the email was to ensure that these issues have in fact been considered and addressed. We have conveyed to the City, both on this site and in general, that we want to work proactively with them to ensure that Safe Rest Villages in close proximity to natural areas are successful.