‘Women’s Camp’ near I-205 to lead to housing

The camp set up in the Lents neighborhood next to I-205 wasn’t intended to be permanent, organizers say, but as a way to keep homeless women from being beat up and raped. See what action the City took to close the encampment …

This homeless camp, set up in the Lents neighborhood to function as a “portable women’s shelter” was intended to be temporary, organizers say.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton

During the first weekend in May, a neat, orderly-looking camp sprang up just south of SE Woodstock Boulevard, between the I-205 Freeway and SE 93rd Avenue.

“I was surprised to see this little ‘village’ appear, almost outside my door,” said area resident Millie Jacobson. “I don’t know what it’s all about, but there’ve been no problems there, so far,” she added.

The need to give women a safe place to sleep is more important – now, more than ever – says Raine Lee Ritalto of Advocacy5.

On May 10, Raine Lee Ritalto, a co-founder of Advocacy5, said that the encampment of tents, perched on raised decks, was exclusively for homeless women who don’t have access to indoor living, and have been at risk for violence.

“We are waiting for the City of Portland to give us vouchers to get these ladies into hotel rooms, and then we can disassemble the camp,” Ritalto said.  “And we’re waiting for two weeks to find this a permanent location for this camp. We couldn’t wait, we took action.”

Advocacy5 has been in talks with the Mayor’s office for “quite a while” for the need for a camp – or a shelter – for the ladies, Ritalto told East Portland News. “This is because, in many other camps, they’re being beaten, raped – attacked. We had a meeting with the City about using this particular property some months back; the City identified as a possibility for us to use.”

But by the time they set up camp, Ritalto said, they were told that the site was no longer available. “Yet, they offered no alternative, although we provided very detailed proposal and a deadline to respond. We decided to proceed, because our model is built [camps] to be movable.

“We are trying to get women to safety, immediately,” Ritalto said.

Camp “Mayor” Julie Zornado says she knows, first hand, the value of the camp, and the organization that provides it.

The camp’s “mayor”, 57-year-old Julie Zornado, said she’s been a victim of domestic violence, and has been attacked while homeless, camping along the Springwater Trail.

“Being ‘mayor’ means overseeing and making sure the women are okay, everyone’s getting along, and that they’re having what they need,” said Zornado. “It allows them do what need to do and feel safe.”

Women are being beaten daily in other camps, Zornado said. “Men can overpower women and victimize them. They need help now. Unlike the city, I’m wearing this Nike T-shirt because, with the help of Advocacy5, we ‘just do it’.  The city is just moving people around, not helping them.”

While they group didn’t get permission to keep camping at the site, by May 12 the women did get indoor shelter.

With motel vouchers provided by the city, this camp has disbanded, for now.

“The Mayor’s Office placed the women in motel rooms for two weeks, until the campsite could be established at a different location,” reported Mayor Charlie Hales Communications Director Sara Hottman.

“They are working with the City on finalizing plans for the new location, which will be established by the end of the month,” Hottman told East Portland News.

Advocacy5 is in the process of setting up a web page and crowd-funding account, but can be contacted by email at advocacyfive@gmail.com.

© 2016 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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