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Saturday, September 8, 2018

Veterans Village: One Step toward Solving a Growing, Pernicious Problem


A Veterans Village Sleeping Pod
Startling statistics reveal an increasingly dire situation in Clackamas County: while the average renter here earns about $15 an hour, the wage needed to afford a two-bedroom apartment is $22 an hour; one out of four renters pays more than half of their total income in rent, while seven out of ten renters with very low incomes pay more than 50 percent for rent; since 2012 the median rent in the county has steadily increased to nearly $2,000 monthly, which is $400 more than Oregon’s average monthly rent.
So perhaps less surprising are these numbers: more than 2,000 people in our county are homeless, with children making up more than half of that number. And there are an estimated 100 homeless U.S. veterans in the county.
It’s a daunting situation, but the Clackamas County Board of Commissioners has taken a measured step toward improving at least that last discouraging number by funding and building “Veterans Village,” designed to be a transitional community with sleeping pods, a kitchen, showers and restrooms, and a community room. The sleeping pods were designed by Portland State University architecture students, and are built from repurposed trusses previously used at the Pickathon Music Festival.
Veterans Village was launched in September 2017 with $300,000 from the General Fund, plus an additional $440,000 for construction and site preparation on 1.5 acres of land in Clackamas.
According to Scott Anderson from the Clackamas County Public and Government Affairs department, the project should be ready to open in the next few months, with a total of 15 pods. “The site can expand to 30 pods,” Anderson says, “but the county wants to assess the situation after the village has been open for some time prior to expansion.”
In constructing the pods, the county looked at prototypes used in North Portland’s Women’s Village and is modeling operations on those used in Opportunity Village in Eugene. After the first group of veterans move in, the Clackamas County Homeless Veterans Coordination team — which includes Do Good Multnomah, the nonprofit service provider for the village — will stay closely engaged with the Veterans Village community.
In addition, a support committee comprised of staff from the Health, Housing and Human Services Director’s office, the leadership of Do Good Multnomah, and a village participant, will regularly meet to ensure alignment with the Village Manual and Community Agreements, to be signed by all participants, as well as to address any issues that may arise.
Anderson says the county has performed a Health and Safety Impact Review for the village, which “has guided and will continue to guide us in ensuring that we provide a safe and stable community environment.”
The endeavor sounds like a promising start to solving a problem that resonates with county residents. Many of us would agree with sentiments expressed by Commissioner Sonya Fischer, who, she notes, is the daughter of a decorated World War II veteran: “I care deeply for our veterans who have given so much so that we have the freedom and democracy we all cherish,” she says. “It is unacceptable that any veteran is homeless.” She calls Veterans’ Village  “a very important first step.”
Commissioner Jim Bernard agrees that the county’s “first priority is getting our veterans into housing, and we had to start somewhere.” But he acknowledges: “Frankly, we can do better.”
Doing better should get easier soon. According to Commissioner Ken Humberston, Oregon’s Congressional team has secured some $9 million in federal grants for low- and moderate-income housing assistance in Oregon. Nearly $3.5 million of this total will go to Clackamas County.