Article by Michelle Hess, a City Repair intern , Village Coalition Organizer, and Pod Designer.
As a Village Coalition intern with City Repair, I’ve had some uplifting opportunities to participate in events aimed at addressing houselessness in Portland. The Village Coalition is a group of organizers, individuals, and houseless villagers joining forces to come up with inventive solutions for the city’s growing houseless population. The coalition meets every other week with updates and to share resources for various projects and events. These meetings often run the gamut of emotions for me, from sadness and frustration when hearing accounts of camps being uprooted by recent sweeps, to heartwarming hopefulness when successes and victories are shared. Overall, it restores my faith in humanity to be in this room with so many people dedicated to making change.
On October 1st, I attended a design charrette hosted by PSU’s Center for Public Interest Design to come up with creative tiny houses (termed PODs by the city for permitting purposes) that could be combined to form houseless villages around the city. Attendees included architects, designers, houseless villagers, activists, and interested community members. As a designer, I thought it was a wonderful mix of people. Members of the houseless community were able to voice their needs and concerns for housing directly to architects and designers who can help create the plans and models needed to build pods for the houseless. In the end, each table presented their design solutions. This charrette was the first step in what will eventually be an exhibition of built PODs in December. The PODs will be displayed at various parks around the city to help familiarize the public with the houseless village model and challenge some of the existing perceptions regarding what houseless shelters can look like.
On October 9th and 11th, I also participated in a women’s shelter build, which took place at Castaway in NW Portland. Four 8’x8’ PODs are being built and will be donated to area churches for use as shelters on their property. The 9th was the first day of the build and, despite the rain, there was a great crew of volunteers. It was inspiring to see everyone work so well together. I was grateful for the more experienced carpenters who were willing to teach the rest of us the basics and keep things moving. I love to build things, but rarely have access to tools and materials, so this build felt extra-rewarding. It was a great opportunity to use my abilities and work with the community to build housing for women in need. On the first day, we started with an empty parking lot and piles of lumber, and ended with four framed shelters! The other build days were during the week, and expectedly slower, but when I was there on Tuesday, the shelters were sheathed and ready for siding, and roofing was underway. There were even plans for dog houses to be made out of scrap material, for occupant’s companion animals. This project is ongoing and has been relocated to the Rebuilding Center, but will hopefully be completed soon.