Above: Hazelnut Graphic Logo from Facebook Page
By the time 5 a.m. hits at the intersection of North Greeley Avenue and North Interstate Avenue, Hazelnut Grove has begun to bustle with everyday life. Residents of The Grove wake up inside their tiny-homes and start their day like any other Portlander in the city.
The fact that they get the privilege and safety of waking up, WHEN they want to, is a blessing for the dozens of "homeless” residents in the community established in 2015. Now, Portland officials want to displace the residents—who have worked hard for years to build a creative solution to houselessness—by placing residents of The Grove into city-run shelter pods that restrict their autonomy and don’t provide permanent housing. Residents are planning to deliver a petition Monday protest at City Hall demanding the City Council acts to ensure the cluster of tiny homes stay put. Unite Oregon supports their efforts to act.
“I’ll head to work at nine, come home at five, do errands, get organized, play with the doggos, and watch some TV,” Bob Brimmer, a construction coworker and Hazelnut Resident, explained to me. I have met and befriended Bob and other Hazelnut Grove residents while working construction at houseless villages with Tivnu, my gap year program. Combined with my experiences at Unite Oregon, I'm approaching 2021 energized to join the advocacy for human rights, social justice and equitable policies for everyone.
For employed residents like Bob, life at The Grove is a normal workday. And yet others, if unemployed, will spend their day compiling resources, securing meals, and working on creative ways to make their spaces more functional and comfortable.
There’s a sense of safety, normalcy, ownership, and security that The Grove provides and the residents cultivate.
“The security is incomparable to living on the streets,” Brimmer said as we chatted during our lunch break. Even early in the camp’s life, safety and security were a major emphasis. “We started with security shifts… and we got the fence that added an incredible layer of security.”
“So the fence matters?” I asked.
“Absolutely,” he replied immediately.
While the fence and the walls of The Grove’s tiny cabins provide crucial and necessary physical structure, the autonomy and self-governance—under threat from the city—create a community structure that truly embodies The Grove. Every week, self-governed group meetings provide a space for residents to air grievances—instead of street fights—discuss and solve conflicts, and improve their space, with nobody taking over control.
“That line of problem-solving doesn’t usually exist in our world.” At Hazelnut Grove, because of its residents’ commitment, it does.
Since its establishment, Hazelnut Grove has grown, flourished, and fostered a safe space for permanent and transitional housing. Still, the city of Portland plans to dissolve the village and its autonomy amid the pandemic and rising houselessness levels. It’s unclear how or when the city will enforce its plan to tear down the walls of the village.
Unite Oregon does not support the idea of clearing and detroying established, safe communities like Hazelnut Grove, especially during the uncertainty and danger of the pandemic.
“Leave Hazelnut Grove in place: continue fencing, garbage collection, and port-a-potties while residents search for a new site where they can continue living in a self-governed community which has been a model for villages around the country.” The Action Network Petition
Matthew Nekritz is a Unite Oregon Intern and member of the Tivnu, Building Justice Program.