333 SW Park in downtown Portland.
333 SW Park in downtown Portland. GOOGLE MAPS

Plans are underway to build a mental health and addiction resource center geared toward homeless people in downtown Portland. If built, it would be the first of its kind in the county.

The Multnomah County Board of Commissioners approved a purchase agreement Thursday morning for 333 SW Park, a four-story, 30,000-square-foot building located about a block south of W Burnside. This doesn't mean they've purchased the building—yet. A purchase agreement is only the first step in establishing the terms of an eventual purchase.

If the county decides to moves forward with purchasing the building, it will serve as a first stop for people experiencing addiction or mental illness to access temporary and long-term housing, counseling, and peer support, as well basic necessities like showers and phone use.

“It has become very clear there is the need for a peer-led resource center for homeless individuals with mental health and substance abuse issues disorders to receive basic supports to assist them in recovery while experiencing homelessness," said Neal Rotman, the county's community mental health program manager and a leading advocate for the resource center, at the board meeting.

The center would be developed and managed by the Multnomah County Health Department’s Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services. According to a document from Thursday’s board meeting, county leaders have been hoping to open such a facility “for years.”

Advocates of the planned resource center say that it is important the county have a place for people to seek help that doesn’t have a barrier to entry, as homeless shelters and treatment centers often do. Rather than requiring people to contact the county and wait for a slot in a program or shelter to open up, they could visit the resource center anytime and receive immediate assistance connecting with the services they need.

Portland currently lacks such a center, meaning homeless people experiencing mental health and addiction crises have few places to turn to for immediate assistance.

Funds to pay for the $4.3 million building would likely come from the sale of the old Multnomah County Courthouse, though they have not been appropriated. It is not yet clear where the county would source development and operating costs.

The City of Portland has not indicated if it will be helping finance the project.

At Thursday’s meeting, several commenters and commissioners noted 333 SW Park’s ideal location: blocks away from Central City Concern, a homeless services nonprofit, and in close proximity from the North Park Blocks, where many homeless people spend time.

“Nowhere in our community is the intersection between behavioral health and homelessness more concentrated, or more visible, than in downtown Portland,” said Chair Deborah Kafoury.

Though the board unanimously approved the purchase agreement, acquiring the building is not yet a done deal. The county still needs to secure funds before the end of the fiscal year.

“We’re hopeful that this will be the perfect building for our project,” Kafoury said. “And if we decide against moving forward, if we decide this building isn’t for us, we’ll continue our search for an appropriate property in downtown Portland.”