Plans for North Portland homeless shelter surprises residents
North Portland neighborhood leaders say their arms are open wide in welcome for a proposed full-service homeless shelter — the first ever in their neck of the woods.
But they also say their residents learned of the plan to convert a disused Rite Aid pharmacy at 1952 N. Lombard St. into a transitional shelter after the ink on the deal was already dry.
"It was a surprise to us when it happened. We didn't know that the shelter was going to go in," said Andrea Matthews, board chair for the Arbor Lodge Neighborhood Association.
"Seeing that the deal was approved was how people found out about it," agreed Tyler Roppe, vice chair for the Kenton Neighborhood Association. "That caused a bit of a stir."
Officials' ideas catching neighbors off guard isn't necessarily a new phenomenon in Portland, either.
Plans for the Laurelwood Center startled Foster-Powell habituès, Street Roots reported in 2018, while the Mid County Memo reported that a "lack of communication" left Mill Park residents in the dark until just a few weeks before the Wy'east men's shelter opened on 122nd Avenue. Sellwood-Moreland neighbors learned in 2016 of plans to open the Willamette Center shelter through news reports and were irked by the lack of notification, OPB reported.
Advocates for the homeless have long questioned why residents should be allowed to vote for or against their new neighbors, but the lack of notification could become another facet in the debate over Portland's Shelter to Housing Continuum project, which would rewrite sections of the city code to make it easier to build congregate and village-style shelters, among other things.
Denis Theriault, a spokesman for the city-county Joint Office of Homeless Services, said officials needed to hustle the money to purchase the Arbor Lodge site out the door quickly, because it was CARES Act funding that expired at the end of the calendar year.
"We would have sent them postcards sooner in the process, but we didn't have that option," Theriault said. "We generally have not put our shelters up for community vote. We generally tell people after we've decided on a site."
The Multnomah County Board of Commissioners ultimately voted unanimously to purchase the 11,000-square-foot storefront on an 0.84-acre lot for $2.65 million on Dec. 17, and also scooped up a 59-room motel on Northeast 82nd Avenue at the same time.
The building's pharmacist counter and diamond-tiled flooring were left untouched as the facility was soon pressed into service as a severe weather shelter during the February chill, providing a warm space for about 60 people a night.
Finding funding for operation and renovation of the shelter — which will add sleeping areas, a kitchen, community space and offices for on-site services focused on moving guests into permanent housing — is expected to be written into the county's 2022 fiscal year budget.
"We're confident that we're going to be able to find the additional resources we need to do the build-out and fund operation," said Marc Jolin, director of the Joint Office. "There's a process ahead of us. There's important community engagement work to do, to help address concerns that neighbors may have and help ensure that there's good understanding of the ways in which the shelter can be an asset to the community."
While they admit to some drama unfolding on social media sites, both Roppe and Matthews say there are plenty of supporters for the project, which sits on the dividing line between the two neighborhoods.
"It seems like a good spot in my opinion," said Matthews.
"The need for shelters seems very apparent," added Roppe, saying that camps have grown along the Columbia Slough and near Interstate 5. "We have seen camps drastically increased. That just illustrates to me how the problem has gotten worse."
Follow me on Twitter
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.