Photo: Washington County Fair
As part of its emergency response to COVID-19, Washington County is opening a managed, outdoor camping location for houseless adults in an effort to reduce the risk of COVID-19 spreading in the houseless community. This outdoor camping project is being called the “Safe Sleep Village” and will be located at Westside Commons, which is the new re-branded name of the property previously referred to as the Washington County Fair Complex in Hillsboro.
The goal of the Safe Sleep Village project is to lower the number of people living in four existing informal camps in Washington County and provide them with a facilitated, safe sleeping location and therefore reduce the risk associated with COVID-19 and being houseless. The Board of County Commissioners has provided funding for the Safe Sleep Village project through money received from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
“This is an emergency protective measure of limited duration that is driven by the presence of COVID-19 in our community,” said Washington County Board Chair Kathryn Harrington. “By working together with Westside Commons and the City of Hillsboro, we can lower the number of people currently living in these informal camps throughout Washington County and reduce the spread of COVID-19 in our community.”
“Preventing the spread of COVID-19 by addressing the immediate needs of people without housing in our community is essential. This site will offer many services to help our community members stay safe and healthy during this pandemic. We appreciate and support the County’s ongoing work, ” said City of Hillsboro Mayor Steve Callaway.
The Safe Sleep Village will consist of 50 camp sites spaced with appropriate physical distancing, located in the paved West Parking Lot of the Westside Commons property owned by the county. The facility’s Cloverleaf Building, adjacent to the West Parking Lot, will be used for meals, restroom and shower facilities and as a cooling and warming station, depending on the weather conditions. The goal is to open the Safe Sleep Village on August 4, 2020 and keep it in operation until December 1, 2020, when campers can be transitioned into the severe weather shelter network in late November. The county is entering into a contract with Project Homeless Connect to manage the Safe Sleep Village. Project Homeless Connect will have staff on site to manage the village 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
The Safe Sleep Village will only take in adults at least 18 years of age and admittance will be by referral only. Outreach workers will visit 4 existing non-managed houseless camps and will offer referrals to those interested in relocating to the Safe Sleep Village. Washington County has a network of year-round shelters serving houseless families and the Family Shelter Network can be accessed by calling 503-640-3263.
The county has spent two months searching for a suitable location for the Safe Sleep Village, knowing that, as part of the emergency response to COVID-19, there was a need to reduce the risk of the virus spreading through the houseless community. With public health professionals stressing the importance of physical distancing, hand washing, wearing face coverings, limiting contact with those not directly in your own household and general good hygiene practices, it has been recognized that these practices are very difficult for houseless individuals to accomplish.
The Washington County Department of Housing Services worked to find a suitable piece of property that contained the key elements to make the project successful: being close to public transit, space for up to 50 tents that could maintain the appropriate physical distance, access to water and power and minimal impact to neighboring properties. The county-owned site at Westside Commons meets all these criteria. Fairgrounds like Westside Commons are often called upon to provide emergency shelter for disasters and the COVID-19 emergency response is no different. Fairgrounds facilities are being used in many cities to provide temporary emergency shelter to help mitigate the spread of the COVID-19 virus among those who are houseless.
Source: Washington County Fair