UPDATES: COLD WEATHER– WASHINGTON COUNTY Is Mobilizing Resources – CHECK THESE LINKS FOR HELP: https://www.co.washington.or.us/Housing/EndHomelessness/homeless_resources.cfm
As the homeless crisis in Hillsboro continues to grow at an alarming rate, everyone is looking for answers. The stories that the Hillsboro Herald and the Hillsboro News-Times have done on the matter certainly have raised awareness. But citizens all over the city are sounding concerns on this matter. No part of the City seems to be without visual signs of tarped camps and makeshift homes. Street corners are often stationed with the less fortunate looking for help. On 2nd and Washington this week a man has been screaming at passing cars. At the Sunset Esplanade, every corner has a group of unhoused residents looking for help. The Orenco Woods Nature Park has tents hidden in the bushes of campers; as do many other Hillsboro Parks. Worst of all is what we have covered in the past, Camp Hope or McKay as it is known on the Western reaches of town. There the piles of garbage and human waste are adding to a health crisis. The problem is everywhere and statistics indicate that there is no relief in sight. So what are we to do?
The City of Hillsboro has opened a winter shelter inside the City Hall itself. This is taking care of 30 people for a short time. In addition, they are leasing some hotel rooms and looking to Washington County for funding and help. Hillsboro Police are doing an amazing job of trying to manage things but are fighting against growing and incredible odds. We thank them. Operation Homeless Connect is a local organization at the front lines working hard to do all they can – but it will not be enough. Open Door Counseling, Western Farm Workers, and a host of other agencies and groups are helping too; as are members of our religious organizations. None of that will be enough. And yet they all fight on.
Imagine Hillsboro as a gleaming valley at the headwaters of a pristine River, surrounded by protective hills and lined with abundant soil. Into the valley come pouring in those needing a better life. That Hillsboro brought all of the original pioneers and settlers here in the early 1800s, and it provided abundance to the Atfalati people for 20,000 years before. This same Hillsboro exists now for those seeking jobs and a better life. Among those coming are many unhoused people, adding to our own citizens in need. MAX Light rail provides an easy route out of a now hellish Portland- so no surprise that Beaverton and Hillsboro are taking the most of the new residents riding West. This is the State we find ourselves in- we are an attractive and nice place to live. Hillsboro is a friendly place where people want and try to help each other. There is no surprise why people in need are coming here. Look at the numbers of people looking for shelter beds and waiting. Realize this is probably only a moderate percentage of the unhoused population that are living here. Many have not signed up or do not want to be in a shelter.
We have reported on the conditions, the people, and the attempts to solve the problems. Our research into how other cities and counties are approaching this problem suggests that Hillsboro is still on the learning curve of how to handle this and what can be done. According to everyone we spoke to locally, no one has any money. Yet the cost of not dealing with matters is going to be even greater in the long run.
In Portland, Los Angeles, Seattle, as well as cities around the country, a new solution has arisen in the form of a little portable home known as the Pallet. This little pop-up house costs between $3,500 and $6,500 dollars and can be erected within 30 minutes. Pallet villages are popping up everywhere and with good reason. Watch this informative video on the launch of a Pallet village at Redondo Beach, California.
Once erected this little home will offer two people a raised bunk, storage area, a locked door, and fresh air. Plugins are also provided. And the roof keeps off the rain and chill too. Add to that a 110 Watt heater and an AC unit and the little home is complete. Students in Lynnwood, Washington are living in them. This is a fast-growing company and was started and founded by people who have a lived experience of being homeless. The company is a social change company and is focused on people and not profit. Let’s look at this problem-solving miracle closer.
Designed and built by people with lived experience.
We know what it takes to end homelessness, because we have experienced — and have overcome — homelessness ourselves. Our shelters were designed by people with lived experience in homelessness, and the majority of employees who build Pallet’s shelters have lived experience in homelessness, addiction, or incarceration.
Locking door and windows
Secure ventilation system with openable ridge cap
Structural floor with aluminum framing that can be placed on any surface
10+ year material lifespan
Folding bunk system (up to 4 beds) allows for customized sleep and living space
Interchangeable bed/desk options
Integrated shelving system
Built of easy-to-clean and -sanitize materials
Resistant to mold, mildew, rot, pests, and bed bugs
110 MPH wind rating
25lb per square foot snow load rating
Fire extinguisher, CO monitor, and smoke detector
Disassemble up to 40+ times for storage or relocation
Look at all of that benefit. Easy to clean- resists mold and mildew. And it can be deployed over 40 times. Imagine that- can be used over and over again. Can you envision how these can help? Could you stomach seeing them in backyards, on vacant lots, parking lots, or on excess parkland? We sure can. They are what they are- a good solution to a horrible problem.
The Pallet can only supply a temporary home, warmth, and safety. But those things allow for rest and a much improved mental state and a chance for change and growth. Showers and food are provided at central locations within the camps and most are secured with fencing and limited access. Given those improvements, people are able to get back on their feet and gain access to the health benefits they need. Villages develop rules, leadership, a sense of belonging, and truly become a community. That is perhaps the biggest benefit beyond the obvious.
Could Hillsboro do a Pallet Village? Of course. Do we have the money to do it? Of course, we do. We are paying millions for one of the fastest internet companies in the world to be installed citywide. Our new community center at Hidden Creek was tens of millions. And our city gives away tens of millions a year in tax breaks to bring in, as well as retain, companies to create more jobs. And the City council approved a program to allow the city to borrow up to $172,000,000 to create more jobs in North Hillsboro. Anyone who suggests there is not any way we can solve this problem from a money standpoint is simply not being honest or creative.
Here are some photos we shot this past week at Portland’s new Pallet village which is just East of the bridge off of I-5. It seems to be clean and working well. One resident we spoke to said this was the first time in years they had felt safe or slept free form fear. They sang the priases of a clean and wonderful place they now call home and their hopes for the future. We were impressed, and anyone that has to compare this to something like what we see at Camp Hope will become a fan quickly.
In Hillsboro we have plentiful land and the City owns a lot of it. If we wanted we could fund and builld a community for a good number of homeless residents by finding the money for the shelters and fencing- add portable showers and bathrooms and work with local non-profits to make it happen. Here is one city owned 10 acre parcel in an industrial area along Jackson Bottom that could work. It is only minutes walk from city hall, MAX, and service providors too. No homes, residential, or retail areas are there that could be in conflict. It is an option. Maybe it could work.
In closing let me offer this. I am a local business person and I know many others. Let me be the first to offer to sponsor a Pallet. I will buy one and donate it to the cause. Clearly many others can too, as can local organizations. This is one option folks, and it will not fix things. But it will help and it is a model and way forward.
It will be freezing this week. Many people will be cold beyond cold. Someone could likely die as a result.
What are we to do?