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New Center Offers Safe Storage for Homeless

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DEUCE WAS SITTING on an Old Town sidewalk, his back against a one-way sign, his right hand gripping a marker. He was scribbling notes on a white box, part of a pack that also contained a sleeping bag.

Wherever he goes—whether it's to a job or a doctor's visit—the pack comes with. He's lucky, because it's not too much to carry. Others on the street, he says, have it a lot worse.

"It's really hard to run around and do anything when you've got 100 pounds of gear on your back," says Deuce. "And you can't take carts on the MAX, so you have to walk everywhere."

To help ease that burden, Portland's housing bureau announced on Tuesday, September 7, the location of a facility downtown—inside the empty Grove Hotel on Burnside—where homeless residents can store their belongings during the day without having to worry whether they'll be stolen or confiscated.

The new storage center, a dream chased by homeless advocates for years, is expected to open within two weeks, says Daniel Ledezma, a policy adviser in Commissioner Nick Fish's office. The homelessness group JOIN operates a locker facility out on NE 81st and Halsey, but there's currently nothing like it downtown.

"That's a big deal," says Deuce.

The facility won't be fancy. In fact, it will be decidedly un-fancy to keep costs down. It will be open two hours in the morning, so clients can check their things in. And it will reopen for two hours in the evening to let them retrieve their things before bedding down.

Clients will approach a front desk where they'll hand over their stuff and have it placed inside one of 40 refurbished shopping carts obtained by the housing bureau. Weapons, drugs, and unwrapped food are prohibited, says Ledezma, with alcohol being "frowned upon." But staff won't be manually inspecting anyone's satchels; everyone will be on the honor system.

It's also meant to be temporary, operating only until next June, when the city's showpiece—the Resource Access Center (RAC) for homeless residents—is expected to open. The RAC will offer more than twice as many cubbies, plus amenities like showers and a community room.

All told, the temporary facility will cost $36,000—$30,000 from the city and the rest from the Portland Business Alliance. The building is owned by the Portland Development Commission.

The city had hoped to open the facility earlier this summer, but the original site, the soon-to-be-demolished Dirty Duck on NW 3rd and Glisan, had neighbors up in arms and ultimately couldn't pass a fire inspection.

And so officials were forced to pivot. Ledezma said housing bureau officials are now working to spread word to agencies that work with the homeless and the Portland Police Bureau. Currently, when police confiscate someone's stuff, retrieving it requires a long walk to the evidence locker in industrial Northwest.

"It's a good pilot project," said Marc Jolin, executive director of JOIN. "Having a place to put a backpack, put one's belongings during the day, is going to be really important for folks who are out looking for work."

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