By LESLEY MCLAM
Although Portland is still grappling with rising rates of unhoused persons, some neighbors in the St. Johns are against any form of village project in their community.
Several transitional camps and village projects have been founded due to the housing state of emergency, such as the Kenton Women’s Village, Right 2 Dream Too, and the Hazelnut Grove Village. These village projects have offered stability and hope for residents, and access to services which would enable many of them to become permanently housed.
Hazelnut Grove Village is a well-known organized and City-sanctioned transitional village for those experiencing homelessness. For about a year, it has been seeking a new location within a reasonable distance from where it is currently situated in the Overlook neighborhood.
In 2018, organizers at Hazelnut connected with community and City leaders to re-establish the village at St. Johns Church, located at 8044 N Richmond Ave.
Joint Office of Homeless Services has been seeking ways to service the houseless population in St. Johns, which has been distinctly under-served.
The lack of places for houseless persons to go in the area led some to establish a peer-led transitional houseless camp called Jason Barns Landing, that has since been disbanded due to frequent sweeps and pressure from authorities.
The plan for St Johns Village is slated to be similar in design to that of “a village in Clackamas County that is managed by Do Good Multnomah,” and the Kenton Women’s Village, with “bathrooms, kitchens and designed pods.”
The project is still in the late planning stages and isn’t expected to be built and ready for residents until late 2020, nearly a year from now.
Even though the St. Johns Village project has the support of a community organization called St. Johns Welcomes the Village coalition, St. Johns Church, and the Joint Office of Homeless Services— some neighbors are unhappy about it.
New NA board pushback
In October, the newly-elected St. Johns Neighborhood Association (SJNA) Board of Directors voted to oppose any “homeless camp, ‘tiny village’, or similar accommodation at this location regardless of whether the current Hazelnut Grove Village residents are relocated to this site.”
According to SJNA, “All fifteen of the new directors ran on a platform of opposition to the establishment of a homeless camp,” at the October board of directors election.
Expressing its staunch opposition to the village project, the SJNA sent letters to the parties associated with the project: JOHS, the St. Johns Center for Opportunity, St. Johns Church, and Do Good Multnomah.
In the letter to JOHS, SJNA wrote that “St. Johns residents are tired of being treated like second class citizens,” and that “any assurances by your office, or the City, that you will address our safety and livability concerns will be met with a great deal of skepticism.”
One of the stated concerns is that “the Portland Peoples Outreach Project has been allowed to operate without interference from law enforcement.”
PPOP is an all-volunteer project of the Peoples Harm Reduction Alliance headquartered in Seattle. It’s website informs that PHRA “runs a need-based needle distribution program serving the region of Cascadia since 2007.”
In 2018, the PHRA won an award from the Seattle Human Services Coalition for ‘the most innovative program due to taking “a fresh innovative approach to the needle exchange model and non-profits in general.”
The St. Johns Center for Opportunity and the St. Johns Christian Church also received strong words from the St. Johns Neighborhood Association in opposition to the village project.
In the letters, SJNA asserts “that SJCO has decided to actively dedicate itself to harming our neighborhood,” and to “please be advised that SJNA will avail itself of every available administrative and legal remedy to prevent [the church] from profiting off of the suffering that you wish to impose on our neighborhood.”
The SJNA board accused the SJCO executive director Lindsay Jensen of “actively working to promote PPOP’s needle distribution project,” and that she was “the driving force” behind the move of Hazelnut Grove to a transitional village in the St. Johns neighborhood.
On December 5th, I reached out to the SJCO for comment on the letter they received from the SJNA. Lena, the interim executive director of SJCO, who replaced Lindsay Jensen on December 2nd, says she had just become aware of the neighborhood association letter after accepting the temporary position and that a board member would reach out to me to answer my questions. No further communication was received from SJCO for this article.
Shelia Mason is the leader of the St. Johns Welcomes the Village Coalition which supports the JOHS transitional village project.
Mason says that during the October SJNA board elections, “a group of neighbors who are passionately opposed to the transitional tiny home project, through standard NA process, flooded an NA meeting where annual elections are held, stuffed the vote, and took over the NA.”
Proposed changes to bylaws
At the December 2019 SJNA meeting, board members brought forth a proposal to alter the SJNA bylaws to require an address in order to be considered “an active member of the NA”, which was reported on by Village Portland‘s Cory Elia.
On their website, the SJNA linked to these proposed changes.
Many homeless advocates believe the address requirement is an attempt to exclude unhoused neighbors, and that having an address isn’t required for membership in a non-profit or neighborhood association.
Marisa Peter, chair of the SJNA, wrote that NA leadership were finalizing revisions to the bylaws with an explanation for each ahead of the vote at the February meeting. SJNA leadership are seeking a federal non-profit status, she wrote, which has different standards for members, and “requires membership to be defined”.
She said that it’s unfortunate that advocates believe the SJNA are trying to exclude unhoused neighbors. St. Johns Center for Opportunity allow unhoused people to use their address for mailings, she wrote, which would allow them to participate under the new standards proposed.
Increasing membership was part of the platform Peter ran on, she wrote, and the federal non-profit status will help them raise funds so they can improve outreach, including adding language translation and publishing a print newsletter.
Peter didn’t respond to the follow-up question regarding who was advising them on the federal non-profit standards or what sources they’re referencing.
The officials weigh in
We didn’t find a consensus for non-profit standards regarding members addresses on the state level, and a federal designation seems to be an entirely different issue.
In Oregon, non-profit organizations are registered and be certified by the Secretary of State. Andrea Chiapella, legislative director with Oregon Secretary of State wrote:
“SOS cannot weigh in on what the IRS requires as that would be under the purview of the IRS, but I can tell you that for SOS filings we require the names and addresses of the officers only. That would include at least the President and Secretary. We would not want or need the addresses of each member for our filing purposes, but again, we cannot speak to what the IRS might need.”
Doretta R. Schrock, an associate program director North Portland Neighborhood Services, the neighborhood coalition that oversees St. Johns said she thinks the law governing non-profit law requires members give addresses.
“I’m not a lawyer nor an expert on Oregon nonprofit law, but from ORS 65.224, it appears that a membership corporation must list names and addresses of members.”
She encouraged us to reach out to the Secretary of State, Department of Justice, or an attorney specializing in non-profit law. We reached out to the DoJ, but didn’t hear back before publishing.
St. Johns Neighborhood Association
January general meeting:
St. Johns Community Center, 8427 N Central St * Monday, January 13 *
7 pm – 8:30 pm
Voting for the SJNA is available to:
“All members who have attended at least one (1) of the last two (2) general or special meetings of the membership or at least one (1) of the last two (2) board meetings shall have one vote each to be cast during attendance at any general or special meeting.
Membership is open to: “all residents 18 years of age and older, property owners, governmental agencies, business licensees, and nonprofit organizations located (or performing a significant part of their services) within the boundaries of SJNA.”
You can find out what neighborhood you’re in by entering your address here.
Timeline / further info on St. Johns Village
Mason also reiterates how the current location for Hazelnut Grove Village was always intended to be temporary, and that “talks about this specific move into St. Johns has been in progress for more than a year, if not 18 months.”
The City-run Home for Everyone page regarding the St Johns Village, contains data about the homelessness in the area, a FAQ, expectations of the village residents, details of the proposed project, how the organizers would address safety concerns, and document links dating back to October 13, 2018.
With additional reporting by Andrew Wilkins.
Lesley McLam is completing her second degree at Portland Community College, studying journalism and communications. She’s the proud mama of a beautiful 14-year-old black cat, and a volunteer anchor, copywriter, reporter, and occasional producer at KBOO community radio who is just beginning to learn about the world of podcasting.