Celebrating our 25th Year

As we all spend this Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday held up in our homes, trying to stay safe and warm, I find myself reflecting on the spirit of service that Dr. King stood for and I am feeling grateful to be part of Bridges’ incredible community. While reflecting on our role of service in Portland, it occurs to me that this is a perfect time to share an important community update with you all. 

Since 2021, we’ve been working hard to establish our school as a key downtown stakeholder in advocating for our neighborhood’s safety, security, and revitalization. We understand our responsibility to model our mission and values as we support Portland’s rebirth. We have an important update to share.

Bridges Middle School, along with International School of Portland (ISP) and other local neighborhood groups, have built positive relationships with the City of Portland, the Queer Affinity Village, and other local government entities. We collaborated with the Street Services Coordination Center (SSCC) to create a comprehensive Safety Plan, which helps to support Queer Affinity Village participants in their recovery and ensures that they, our housed neighbors, and our Bridges and ISP communities have safe places to play, run, and walk. We are proud that our work has led to the creation of no-camping zones around not just Bridges and ISP, but all Safe Rest Villages and schools in Portland. 

Our impact is being recognized. This Fall, ISP Head of School Bodo Heiliger and I were invited to speak at both the Portland City Council (at 1:30) and the Multnomah County Commission (at 19:25) meetings about our relationship with the Street Services Coordination Center and the Queer Affinity Village. The Bridges and ISP communities have been celebrated for our community-oriented efforts to work together and engage in challenging conversations to find common ground. It’s an ongoing effort, but we remain committed to finding solutions that are most humane for everyone – both housed and unhoused – during this ongoing societal crisis. 

With that being said, there have been a few unsanctioned campsites in our neighborhood that we’ve struggled to remove. You may have noticed those located under the I-405 and I-5 overpasses on South Water and Sheridan Streets. These campsites are classified by city ordinance as “high-impact” due to their proximity to our campus and the fact that they impede our community’s safe routes to and from school. Despite our established Safety Plan, moving these camps has been quite difficult. 

The challenge has been that the centers of these camps are on state-owned Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) lands. The City and the SSCC have been extremely responsive to camp removals on most properties. Unfortunately, they’ve been hindered in their ability to respond to camps on the ODOT lands.

Finally, after months of emails and phone calls to government officials, our pleas for assistance have been heard. We finally met with Governor Kotek’s office and our region’s ODOT Manager. As a result, these areas have now been cleared and we now have a defined process for reporting camps on ODOT-owned properties. 

We are sympathetic to the unhoused individuals who have lived in these camps. They have made them their homes for the past few months. However, these campsites have become impassable, unsafe, and inhumane for all involved. Our priority is the safety and well-being of our students, staff, and families who come to and from our campus. All of the relocating individuals will be offered alternative shelter. 

We appreciate the great responsibility we have being downtown and a part of the solution to this humanitarian crisis. We are proud of how we have been working to create systems of accountability and systems of reform to move our wonderful city forward. As you know, this is an ongoing process, and we will continue to remain vigilant in keeping our community and neighbors safe. We will continue to advocate and will let you know how you can advocate, as well. 

Beven Byrnes (hear my name)
Executive Director
She / Her / Hers (what’s this?)

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