IT WAS A little-noticed comment with big potential implications in this city's struggles with homelessness.
During an appearance on OPB last week, Mayor Charlie Hales casually dropped word that there would be "hundreds of more homeless beds in the next few weeks."
Hales and his interviewer let the comment pass, but the questions lingered: Where would these beds be? How would a city that has struggled mightily to shelter its swelling ranks of homeless people so nimbly find new space, and so soon?
The mayor's office wasn't saying anything. But Hales' budget requests have filled out the picture somewhat.
As the Mercury first reported, the mayor's asking his city council colleagues to spend $1 million on renovating a former army reserve center in Southwest Portland into a short-term shelter space. It's a piece of roughly $2.75 million Hales wants to put toward the city's new housing "state of emergency" as part of twice-yearly budget recalibrations.
The improvements Hales' office wants to make to that old army reserve center—on SW Multnomah, just west of SW Barbur—would help the building on its way to its eventual role as an emergency preparation center. In the meantime, they'd make it "shelter ready" for more than 100 homeless Portlanders on any given night, according to Hales' chief of staff, Josh Alpert, who opened up about the plans after we'd reported on them.
That's a potential wave in what Alpert predicts will be a blitzkrieg of new shelter space—made potentially easier to establish by relaxed zoning codes approved under Portland's housing emergency declaration.
Hales' new budget request, up for consideration November 4, also includes $1.26 million that would be used to create roving "shelter management teams" that will travel to new shelter spaces the mayor's office is quietly pursuing.
"If we're going to be creating pop-up shelters—temporary shelter all over town—it would be way too cost-intrusive to have full-scale providers running day-to-day operations," Alpert says. Instead, squads of housing resource officers, mental health specialists, and veterans' advocates could travel from spot to spot.
It's not Hales' idea. The notion of mobile resource teams began with A Home for Everyone, a wide-ranging group formed to scheme about fighting homelessness. The city and Multnomah County have pledged a combined $30 million to help the group's action plans come to fruition—but most of it won't be available until next summer.
That's the way these things go in this city, where it seems new low-income housing is always months off, and dollars to help thousands of unsheltered residents off the streets are always in next year's budget. It's laudable, then, that we're getting some immediacy—particularly as winter takes hold.
This may get unpleasant. Portland's neighborhood groups are great at finding benign and well-meaning-sounding reasons for opposing shelters. And there will be plenty of skeptical questions to ask (like how those hundreds of homeless people off SW Barbur would get back into downtown).
Let's embrace it all, and then be rational. This is an emergency, after all.