It became clear on Monday afternoon, not long after Homer Williams and his colleagues had finally sent along a proposal to create a homeless shelter at Terminal 1: After months of planning, hundreds of thousands of dollars raised, and disagreements that reverberated through both the Portland City Council and the city's social services community, the Terminal 1 idea was dead.
"I saw the business plan around 4 pm," Portland Housing Bureau Director Kurt Creager said this morning. "It was just not responsive."
"We had been sort of angst-ing about winter shelter," Commissioner Dan Saltzman told the Mercury, describing the lead up to a decision he announced Tuesday. "We have been pursuing other options as well."
Those options no longer include Terminal 1. For Saltzman and Creager, it wasn't what developer Williams' Harbor of Hope nonprofit was proposing that sealed the idea's fate. It was what it couldn't promise.
Housing officials had said for weeks that they needed evidence Harbor of Hope had secured an "experienced shelter operator" to run the facility, which might have sheltered as many as 400 people. But the more traditional, more moneyed nonprofits running Portland homeless shelters were evidently leery.
Instead, Williams and his cohort—including Don Mazziotti, a former executive director of the Portland Development Commission—wound up leaning on a well-respected grassroots figure: Ibrahim Mubarak.
Mubarak co-founded Right 2 Dream Too, the Northwest Portland homeless rest area that by all accounts has had impressive success getting people on their feet over the last five years. But the somewhat atypical model Mubarak promised wasn't enough.
"It’s not Ibrahim, it's the fact we want an experienced shelter operator," Saltzman said.
Creager, in a separate conversation, clarified: "A mass shelter operator." If it expanded to the full 400 beds that had been contemplated, the Terminal 1 shelter would have been the largest in the Pacific Northwest.
"It's not a self-managed group" like Right 2 Dream Too, Creager said. "It's a group that needs a lot of support. The cost of failure is just too great."
Update, 4 pm; Here's a memo [PDF] Creager sent to Saltzman on Tuesday laying out his qualms with the proposal.
Original post: Saltzman and Creager broke the news to the Harbor of Hope backers early Tuesday afternoon, in a meeting that included representatives of Mayor Charlie Hales and Mayor-elect Ted Wheeler. Saltzman describes the reaction as "frustrated." Williams hasn't returned calls for comment.
The decision brings an abrupt halt to an idea that's caused no end of debate—along with legal challenges—since this summer. Harbor of Hope wasn't just pushing a shelter, it envisioned creating a massive homeless campus on the 14.5-acre Northwest Portland Terminal 1 site based on San Antonio's Haven for Hope facility. The campus would include shelter space, housing, and comprehensive social services.
"We're excited by the Haven for Hope model," Saltzman said today. "At least I am. We're not trying to discourage the longer term vision."
It's unclear at this point if any aspect of the proposal moves forward, though. Williams and his friends had been proposing an unheard-of private sector stake in helping Portland's homeless crisis, but their excitement often seemed tied specifically to Terminal 1.
Terminal 1, though, likely won't be in the city's hands much longer. At word of Saltzman's decision to kill the shelter idea, the city's Bureau of Environmental Services began prepping to sell it. The bureau had been soliciting offers for the land before being told to stop by a sharply divided city council. Now, BES Commissioner Nick Fish will push to get the property back on the market as soon as possible.
Jim Blackwood, Fish's senior policy director, is working on a council resolution that would formally give BES permission to sell the property. It could come up for consideration as early as next week.
Assuming it passes, Blackwood says BES will re-open the property for formal offers. Earlier this year, the city received seven offers—ranging from $6 million (from Costco) to $10 million—but Blackwood believes there would have been more if the specter of a shelter hadn't fouled the process.
He says the city will be looking for buyers who hew to the site's existing industrial zoning designation. Fish has repeatedly argued that Terminal 1 is a rare patch of riverside industrial land in a city with far too little of it.
"We are most interest in non-contingent offers that leverage the existing zoning," Blackwood says. "We’re still up against the city’s overall lack of industrial property."
As to the winter shelter Saltzman has been "angst-ing" over, he says there's one proposal that's "ready to jump." He wouldn't discuss specifics, but Portland City Council this morning put nearly $415,000 that had been intended for a Terminal 1 shelter toward other shelter uses as part of its twice-yearly budget adjustment process.