Portland, Oregon, is exploring ways to enhance the facilities of its homeless camps by replacing tents with "sleeping pods," which can be funded through state assistance.
During a recent virtual town hall, Mayor Ted Wheeler expressed his support for the initiative, stating that the use of pods would be an improvement over the current tent-based solution.
The mayor's plan involves creating six large outdoor camps, with the ultimate goal of reducing and eventually banning homeless camping in all public spaces. However, Oregon Governor Tina Kotek informed the city that the use of tents would not qualify for any program funding available in the $200 million emergency homelessness and housing spending plan due to habitability requirements.
A spokesperson for the governor confirmed that sleeping pods could potentially qualify for county funding, which the city is now exploring alongside other options.
Portland City Council has already allocated $27 million to construct and operate three of the six tent sites for a year, with plans to build an additional three camps within the next two years. The funds will also cover hiring homeless outreach workers and supporting the city office responsible for cleaning the encampments.
Mayor Wheeler acknowledged that city funding alone is insufficient and that assistance from the county, regional government, and state lawmakers is necessary for the plan's success.
As detailed by Fox News, a Portland State University study published last year found that residents who lived in pod-based villages were "largely satisfied" with the accommodations, although food security remained a significant issue.
Neighbors living near pod-based villages reported that their concerns diminished over time, with "most neighbors who reported concerns … when they first learned of villages being located in their neighborhood reporting no longer having those concerns after living near the village."
Dignity Village, established in 2000, is the oldest and longest-running community of "tiny house" or pod village in the county. The village, which costs around $33,000 per year to maintain, has 45 pods and houses "about 60 villagers at any given time."
Toddy Ferry, the lead writer and researcher on the study, emphasized that the government needs to consider the social infrastructure and its impacts alongside the physical structure of the pods.
He suggested that efforts to build agency and community within these villages could be highly beneficial, even if self-governance might not always be possible. Ferry also noted that although the villages initially provoke reactions from neighbors, many seem to change their opinions over time, indicating that these concerns should not be the primary focus when evaluating the effectiveness of pod-based villages.