Mayor Ted Wheeler at the Harbor for Hope press conference
Mayor Ted Wheeler at the Harbor for Hope press conference Kelly Kenoyer

It appears that a wealthy Portland CEO and a Portland developer, both of whom have a well-documented history of animosity towards the homeless, have had a change of heart.

Oregon Harbor for Hope—a nonprofit organization chaired by developer Homer Williams, has announced a partnership with Columbia Sportswear CEO Tim Boyle to build a new homeless shelter under the Broadway Bridge—just blocks from Williams’ prized Marriott Hotel. It’s the same location where, in 2016, Williams fought tooth and nail to keep homeless camp Right 2 Dream Too (R2D2) from setting up shop.

In a Tuesday morning press conference, Williams had changed his tune.

“One thing I realized is that we’re all going to have to be involved," he said. ”We can’t have people pooping in bushes, drinking bad water, not getting enough sleep, we’re a better country and city than that.”

"This takes commitment, and it takes volunteers, and it takes money,” Williams added. That's where Boyle comes into play. The CEO announced he'd donate $1.5 million to help construct the new shelter.

Boyle wrote an op-ed in the Oregonian last year disparaging the homeless situation in Portland and threatening to move Columbia’s new Sorel brand headquarters out of downtown due to the amount of homeless people crowding the neighborhood. This call led to Mayor Ted Wheeler making rushed promises to increase area policing, and “do whatever it takes” to keep downtown businesses content.

Apparently, that means helping the businessman bankroll a brand-new shelter— or, as its been called, a “navigation center."

“I’ve decided that it’s important to invest in the project that [local attorney] Bob Stoll and Homer have put together,” Boyle said. “It provides significant momentum and a challenge quite frankly to the business community.”

The proposed Oregon Harbor for Hope project is meant to bring homeless people in on a short-term basis where their needs can be triaged. Staff will evaluate a person’s individual needs, come up with a plan to connect them to services, and then “hopefully move them through the system,” Williams said. He emphasized, however that affordable housing is the key to truly solving homelessness.

Attorney Stoll, who helped gather support for the project, said that the $1.5 million would certainly cover the construction of the facility, which will be constructed on city-owned property. There is no word on who will fund operational costs, which are estimated to be $1.5 to 2 million per year.

The shelter is expected to house 100 to 120 beds, depending on the final plan. The current draft includes an outside recreation area and vegetable gardens, all surrounded by an 8-foot chain-link fence wrapped in black vinyl, according to design plans obtained by the Oregonian.

Many details of the project are still unclear and almost appeared to be an afterthought at the morning meeting.

Mayor Wheeler applauded the business community for these steps. “Public-private partnerships can work to address this unfolding crisis in our streets,” he said. “This is a good project, but I want to reiterate that it is just one project… We need more resources to transition people into housing.”

He added, perhaps in a nod to Williams’ previous position against a homeless camp near his hotel, “We can’t only support shelter as long as it’s not in our own backyards. We can’t only support affordable housing as long as it’s not in our backyards.”

None of the standard homeless advocates were asked to speak at this morning's press conference. Asked to comment, Kari Lyons, director the Welcome Home Coalition, said her organization is in favor of the project. "We embrace private public partnerships and are hopeful that Harbor of Hope will tap into the expertise of existing service providers."

George Devendorf, Executive Director of Transition Projects, had similar praise, calling the new public-private partnership "an encouraging step in the right direction." He added, "The proposed shelter offers our community a trial run for expanded public-private collaboration—a collaboration that will hopefully pave the way for bigger and bolder partnerships in the years ahead."