At 9 am on Monday morning, October 1, 94 homeless people were crowded into the Julia West House, exceeding the center's ideal stated capacity by more than half. Around the corner, an old woman in a ragged fur coat sat on the sidewalk reading a copy of the Portland Tribune, an empty bottle of Wild Irish Rose nearby.
The center, on SW 13th and Alder, is where cops and private security officers have been directing homeless people who are sitting and lying on downtown's sidewalks. Sitting and lying became illegal in Portland on August 15. The center provides hot showers, coffee, and someplace warm to sit—as well as classes in computers, renting apartments, and anger management for people who want them. There are granola bars and snacks, too.
But with the weather yet to really turn cold, it looks like the center—with an intended capacity of 40 to 60—is not going to be big enough to meet downtown Portland's needs.
"It's getting to the point where we're going to have to start turning people away soon," said the center's director, Marvin Mitchell, at a meeting of the mayor's Street Access for Everyone (SAFE) oversight group last Thursday, September 27.
The Julia West House has always been a temporary measure—the mayor has charged Commissioner Erik Sten's office with building a permanent day-access center for downtown's homeless as soon as possible. But some on the SAFE group are growing impatient.
"While the Julia West House is doing a great job providing homeless individuals with day-access services, its high demand demonstrates the tremendous need for a permanent facility that could help even more people," says Mike Kuykendall, vice president of Downtown Services and Central City for the Portland Business Alliance (PBA) and co-chair of the mayor's SAFE group.
Sten says he's hoping to close a deal on a parking lot at NW 4th and Glisan in the next two weeks, which should then be ready for development of a permanent center by the Portland Development Commission.
"I love nothing more than [the fact] that the PBA thinks it's critical to get this permanent access center built," Sten says. "But even if everything goes perfectly, this really isn't going to solve any of the short-term issues with the temporary SAFE day-access center, because our doors aren't going to be open until 2009."
Meanwhile the SAFE group is looking at opening a second temporary day-access center on NW 3rd and Couch soon.