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Owner Jordan Schnitzer is working with Helping Hands nonprofit organization on a new proposal.

KOIN 6 NEWS - The former entrance of the never-used Multnomah County Wapato Jail.

A plan to convert the always-vacant Wapato Jail into a mixed-use facility for housing and supportive services got a $1 million commitment from owner Jordan Schnitzer on Friday, Dec. 13.

The proposal made in conjunction with Helping Hands is slated to be called Bybee Lakes Hope Center. The non-profit organization and Schnitzer announced the plan at a morning press conference.

Bybee Lakes Hope Center would be a mixed-use facility. According to their statement, it would "co-locate referral-only mass housing and trauma-informed supportive services for the unsheltered in Multnomah County."

Schnitzer promised $1 million but said another $2 million in private donations is necessary to make this plan a reality.

Others joining Schnitzer at the press conference were Alan Evans, the founder of Helping Hands Reentry Outreach, and Oregon state Sen. Betsy Johnson.

Evans is a formerly homeless drug addict and criminal who turned his life around. He began Helping Hands in 2004 in Seaside. It now operates 11 emergency homeless shelter and re-entry program facilities in four counties outside of Portland.

They dismissed the idea that people should not live in a facility that was intended as a jail but never used.

"January is coming. It's cold out," Evans said. "Spend four days with me on the street. One blanket, traffic going by, and tell me in two days. If you don't think this place is safe I'll close up shop."

"It's basically an empty building with nine wings. It's fully set up to accomodate groups of people. A shower every morning — what a gift for someone living on the street," Schnitzer said. "I completely reject the idea that it is a dehumanizing place."

As Johnson said, "Would you rather sleep in a bed with a pillow or in a tent in the woods?"

Wapato Jail was built in 2004 for $58 million and never housed a single inmate. Multnomah County sold the 525-bed facility to developer Marty Kehoe for $5 million. Schnitzer financed the purchase and took ownership.

On Oct. 10, Schnitzer announced that after 18 months of trying to strike a deal to turn the unused Wapato Jail into a homeless shelter, he would demolish it for a warehouse, But he now says he will delay the demolition for 30 to 60 day, at least, to allow Helping hands time to finalize its proposal.

Schnitzer has been told there's no deal from county leader for public funding of homeless housing at Wapato. But he still holds out hope.

"What I don't understand is when there's a chance to rise to the occasion and reach out to Alan and say what can we do."

KOIN 6 News is a news partner of the Portland Tribune. You can find their story with video here.


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