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Fencing surround the location of future St. Johns Village . | Credit: Nathan Isaacs

St. Johns — The St. Johns Village transitional housing program will begin receiving residents this month.

As it opens, the City of Portland will be shutting down the Hazelnut Grove homeless village on Greeley Avenue near the Interstates 5 and 405 interchange.

The new St. Johns village features 19 heated sleeping pods, electricity, full bathrooms, a full-service kitchen and laundry facilities. Do Good Multnomah will manage the site – offering housing navigation and case management services through a contract with the City of Portland/Multnomah County Joint Office of Homeless Services.

About half the current residents at Hazelnut Grove will relocate to the St. Johns site.

“From the beginning, we have prioritized the wellbeing of our houseless neighbors and our community at large,” Mayor Ted Wheeler said. “Hazelnut Grove tells the story of Portland’s housing challenges – but it also shows what we can achieve with empathy, creativity and cooperation.”

Both locations have their advocates and opponents. 

People experiencing homelessness began settling at Hazelnut Grove in 2015. It was never officially sanctioned by the city, although the city provided fencing, trash services, portable toilets and a storage container.

The Overlook Neighborhood Association strongly opposed the village, citing concerns about safety risks and neighborhood impacts. That opposition increased in 2018 after a camper-caused fire in the Overlook hillside area. 

In a news release announcing the closure, the city also said Hazelnut’s location near steep slopes created a danger of landslides and other environmental problems. The location is also difficult for firefighters to access. And accessing the site can require sidewalk and bike lane closures, putting pedestrians and cyclists at risk.

Some advocates for Portland’s homeless community have circulated a petition opposing the closure, while Overlook neighbors have urged the City to complete the move as soon as possible.

“It’s understandable that people have passionate opinions on both sides. We’re making decisions that affect people’s sense of safety and their living environment,” said Commissioner Dan Ryan. “I want to thank everybody involved for working together to find a respectful, innovative, and safe solution.” Work began on the St. Johns Village late last year. However, as reported by The Oregonian, on December 18th someone vandalized 15 of the 19 sleeping pods, causing about $8,000 in damages and delaying the opening by a few weeks.