Scott Kotlarz of LMC Construction describes the layout of Kenton Village’s permanent site, located on North Columbia Boulevard. The village is a collaborative effort among many entities.
Scott Kotlarz of LMC Construction describes the layout of Kenton Village’s permanent site, located on North Columbia Boulevard. The village is a collaborative effort among many entities.

“This is so great. Wow.”

Debbie Haskett stepped over mounds of gravel and dirt, weaving in between brightly colored tiny houses marveling at what will soon offer shelter and community to women like herself — those who know the fear and fatigue of life on the streets.

Haskett was one of the first residents of a temporary cluster of transitional housing pods for homeless women operated in North Portland by Catholic Charities. Thanks to the support she received at Kenton Village, the 57-year-old secured her own apartment in St. Johns in 2017.

Now the village she loved has found a new and permanent home blocks away from its original site, on property owned by the City of Portland. The approximately 15,000-square-foot community is located on North Columbia Boulevard and likely will be ready to welcome residents in February.

Six of the 14 old pods were transported on fork lifts to the new location. A few others have been loaned for temporary use; local architects and builders will compete to create winning designs for more. The plan is to have 20 pods on site, along with a kitchen, bathrooms, showers and a garden.

The new village will have running water, and the pods will be insulated and have radiant heaters — amenities the first homes did not possess.

Rose Bak, director of Homeless and Housing Services for Catholic Charities of Oregon, said the permanent location is an affirmation of Kenton’s success. Catholic Charities placed 21 Kenton residents in permanent housing since the first village was erected a year and a half ago. 

“All the women who came to us had experienced long-term homelessness, some for six to 10 years,” Bak said. At Kenton they were connected with housing but also a range of services, including health care.

Bak believes one of the primary reasons Kenton transformed so many lives was simple: Women could close a door and lock it.

“The vast majority of women on the streets are assaulted,” said Bak. “It’s hard to sleep when you’re afraid you’re going to get attacked. At Kenton they can get a good night’s sleep, which resets the brain so they can focus on housing, jobs.

“The sense of security is healing for women,” she added.

Bak said the new village will offer more support for healing from trauma, strengthen partnerships with domestic violence agencies and reach out to culturally specific organizations.

African-Americans and other communities of color suffer from disproportionately high rates of homelessness in the Portland region, according to a 2017 point-in-time count of unsheltered individuals.

A collaborative effort, the village is supported foremost by Catholic Charities, the City of Portland and the Joint Office of Homeless Services. LMC Construction played a key role readying the new location.

Since the new Kenton Village remains in the same neighborhood it will continue to receive support from neighbors.

“The Kenton neighborhood adopted the village in the most incredible way,” said Bak. “Once they met the women and heard their stories it was very powerful to see the relationships formed.”

When the women moved into a temporary residence in Southeast Portland while the new site was prepared, Kenton neighbors helped transport the women’s belongings.

Haskett said when she first arrived at Kenton, she thought, “Thank you, God, this is the most amazing thing ever.”

“I was so relieved,” she said. “I want this new place to be a home to many more women.”

“I hope,” added Bak “that the new residents will be able to draw on their inner strength to not only move into permanent housing but reach the goals, the dreams, they set for themselves.”