IT HASN'T been easy to keep track of Portland’s homeless shelters over the last two years.
Ever since former Mayor Charlie Hales declared a housing state of emergency in September of 2015, the city and county have unveiled a rotating cast of buildings where down-and-out Portlanders might find respite.
Then there was the Peace Shelter, a downtown building donated temporarily by Portland’s Menashe family, which twice served as shelter space. Developer Tom Cody kicked in a property of his own, providing temporary winter shelter just off O’Bryant Square.
Even the largest facility in the county—the 200-bed Hansen Shelter at Northeast Glisan and 122nd—is on borrowed time. The former sheriff’s office headquarters has a host of deficiencies, and wasn’t supposed to serve the homeless for longer than a year. It’s now been around 13 months, with no definitive closing date in sight.
This bopping around is not how you’d choose to serve the city’s growing homeless population, but the authorities battling the crisis often don’t have a choice. They’re struggling in the same frenzied real estate environment as everyone else—with NIMBYism and zoning restrictions thrown in for good measure.
Which helps explain why the city/county Joint Office of Homeless Services (JOHS) is courting something of an old flame.
Last week, the Portland Tribune reported that officials have been laying groundwork for a big, new, long-term shelter—not in East Portland, where beds are scarce, or far-flung Southwest, but in social service-heavy Old Town, not far from four existing year-round shelters.
The JOHS has its eye on a long-dormant warehouse at 320 NW Hoyt, just east of the Greyhound station and Bud Clark Commons.
“This is meant to end that sort of ‘bopping around,’ as you put it,” says Denis Theriault, a spokesperson for the homelessness office and former Mercury reporter. “This allows us to be in control for a large amount of time.”
Theriault’s got history with Hoyt Street building. As the prior steward of this column, he watched as former Mayor Charlie Hales mooned over the old gray warehouse in late 2013—hoping to put homeless rest area Right 2 Dream Too into some of the building’s more than 29,000 square feet.
The plan generated a lot of hope, then fizzled. On top of the $10,000 in monthly rent to lease the building from its Seattle owners, the city found it needed some $335,000 in renovations.
But here we are again.
Theriault says it’s still too early to say whether a shelter space is feasible. Sure, JOHS has more resources than the R2DToo effort did, but the larger scale officials now have in mind—up to 200 beds—also likely means far larger renovation expenses, and a rent deal hasn’t been hammered out.
There are also concerns from Old Town neighbors who are ready to see the area attract more than homeless services.
They’ve got a point. The renewed run at a Hoyt Street shelter is, yet again, not a strategy you’d necessarily pick if given a choice.
And again, it’s not clear we have one.