There's nothing like the specter of a homeless shelter to bring out a little hypocrisy.
For some fun examples, look at Wednesday afternoon's meeting of the coordinating board for A Home For Everyone—the group of government officials, social services providers, and other stakeholders that's been strategizing to end homelessness in Multnomah County.
The group today heard from Homer Williams, the prominent Portland developer who's been agitating to build a huge new campus for the homeless at the city-owned Terminal 1 property near NW Front and 21st. Yes, we wrote about that project this morning.
But let's address some of the more puzzling things that happened this afternoon.
First—always first—are the concerns that were raised by the Portland Business Alliance (PBA), through staffer Raihana Ansary.
Ansary today suggested that the push for the homeless campus, dubbed Oregon Trail of Hope, needed to slow way down. City Council might take the first vote that could lead to the project next week, when it'll consider a resolution that would create a temporary 400-person shelter at the site.
That's not the right move, Ansary said. Instead, the PBA wants the city to consider any and all offers from the private market to purchase the property (it's currently up for sale). If there's a proposal in there that could lead to good jobs, Ansary said, the city needs to leave Terminal 1 be.
"We're definitely intrigued, interested," she told a packed room. But, she said, "Terminal 1 is located on prime industrial lands. Industrial lands are a significant generator of jobs."
That's a position that City Commissioner Nick Fish certainly agrees with. So why's it a weird one for the PBA to take? Because the organization has advocated placing homeless shelter on those very industrial lands—lands just down the road from Terminal 1. Just today, we published data connected to a spreadsheet of all the properties city and county officials have explored as potential sites for shelters. Here:
Click around on that map, and you'll find three properties in the Northwest Industrial district very close to the proposed shelter. Their addresses: 3200 NW Yeon, 2700 NW Front, and 4785 NW Front.
Something those properties have in common? They've all got the same zoning designation. as Terminal 1. Another thing? They were all suggested to the city by the PBA, according to the city's data.
That's not all. According to Brendan Finn, chief of staff to Housing Commissioner Dan Saltzman, it was the PBA that first proposed Terminal 1 as a shelter space. Now it's throwing ice on the idea.
As a frustrated Finn told Ansary at this afternoon's meeting: "This was a property that was first brought to us by the PBA. There's a little bit of irony there."
More irony came in the form of Beam Development's Brad Malsin, who serves as president of the venerable Central Eastside Industrial Council. Malsin got to today's meeting late, but gave a stirring defense of the Terminal 1 proposal after hearing the PBA's doubts.
"I don't even understand why this is even a conversation," he told the room. "We have 2,000 people on the streets. The mayor has just decided that camping will be illegal again. Where are they going to go?"
He continued: "I don't care about the economic impact."
It's a hell of a sentiment until you consider the fact that, right at this very moment, Malsin's actively fighting a vital resource for homeless people moving into his neck of the woods, and partly using rhetoric about industrial lands and jobs to do so.
Malsin's CEIC is in the process of challenging a city zoning decision that would permit the much respected homeless rest area Right 2 Dream Too to move to a city lot at SE 3rd and Harrison. In a long hearing back in February, the CEIC and its allies voiced reason after reason for why R2DToo didn't belong on precious industrial lands. If Malsin's group and others prevail in front of the state's Land Use Board of Appeals, it could easily scotch the rest area's chances of moving.
"If you're going to do it, do it right," Malsin said when I asked about this glaring disconnect. He says the land where R2DToo might sit is too small, and too close to an existing industrial operation, East Side Plating. He acknowledged that he's argued in the past about putting camps in industrial sanctuaries, but says he's 100 percent on board with Williams' idea.
Now that all that's off our chest: How did the rest of the Home for Everyone Coordinating Board respond to the proposal? Pretty well, though some people hadn't heard anything at all about it. There's a general enthusiasm that the private sector might put resources into addressing homelessness (Williams says he can find money to pay for operations of a temporary shelter at Terminal 1, and pay for more than half of the large proposed campus)>
Still, there are concerns, even from tentative supporters of the plan, that it could amount to simply hiding hundreds of homeless Portlanders. As Ree Karhuus, executive director of the volunteer group Boots on the Ground PDX said today: "A major concern is, of course, warehousing homeless people in a hot tin shed."
But Karhuus also said her group provisionally supports Williams' proposal, and thinks lots of other groups might, too, if it's done right.
In making his pitch this afternoon, Williams announced he's already got established services on board. He said Union Gospel Mission has agreed to help run a shelter. The organization didn't immediately return an email asking for confirmation.