Wapato tour showcases homeless shelter possibilities
Portland developer and philanthropist Jordan Schnitzer continued pitching the idea of using the never-opened Wapato Jail for the homeless on Friday morning.
Schnitzer, who bought the former Multnomah County property for $5 million in April, met with social service providers, reporters and other interested parties at the North Portland facility. At the end an hour-long tour, Schnitzer talked excitedly about using it as an emergency shelter and rehabilitation clinic for people living on the streets.
"I don't have all the answers, but if we can bring the community and experts together and talk about the possibilities, I'm sure we can figure out something that makes sense," Schnitzer told the dozen or so people gathered in one of the jail's dormitories.
The 9 a.m. tour was arranged by Oregon Harbor of Hope, a nonprofit organization founded by Portland developer Homer Williams, which has been trying open a large homeless shelter and service center for more than two years. Participants included representatives of Haven for Hope, a large San Antonio homeless shelter and service center that Williams has visited and is using a model. Representatives of Volunteers of America and others were scheduled to take a similar tour at 12:30 p.m.
Particpants were mostly impressed with the size and flexability of the facility, which includes multiple dormitories, an industrial-size kitchen, medical facilities, and numerous meeting and conference rooms.
"It exceeded my expectations," said Hillary Wilton, a volunteer with Oregon Harbor of Hope.
Schnitzer surprised the Multnomah County Commission when he bought Wapato from developer Marty Kehoe, who purchased it for the same price on April 19. Schnitzer had arranged for the purchase before the deal closed. He then called Williams and offered him the chance to determine the feasability of using Wapato for the homeless — an idea consistently opposed my Multnomah County Chair Deb Kafoury.
"Homer is a dreamer. I always tell my staff, you won't get anywhere if you don't dream," said Schnitzer, who owns Harsch Investment Properties.
The jail sits on 18 acres of industial land. It was completed in 2004 at a cost of $58 million. It never opened after Oregon voters approved property tax limitation measures that reduced the money available to county to operate it. An analysis by the Portland Tribune found the county has paid over $90 million for the jail by the time of the sale, counting interest and maintenance payments.
"It would be a shame, with all the money spent on Wapato, if we can't find a pubic benefit for it," Schnitzer said.
To read a previous Portland Tribune story on the issue, go to https://tinyurl.com/y7vxnh3z.