Columbia Shelter downtown sleeps 78 people on first night
City and county officials announced on Tuesday, Jan. 17, the opening a new homeless shelter, the Columbia Shelter, 401 S.W. Washington St., a temporary shelter with 100 beds. It began operation that night and slept 78 people.
Its opening follows the loss of hundreds of emergency shelter beds that open only when triggered by severe weather events. Most of those shelters don't plan to reopen again on Wednesday, Jan. 18. On Tuesday, 611 people slept at emergency shelters, according to numbers reported by 211info.org.
The Columbia Shelter opened in another public-private partnership with the Menashe family, a Portland real estate family that previously donated the space for homeless to sleep at the Washington Center building last year.
"Severe weather has illustrated a couple things, first of all that we as a community need to find innovative and compassionate responses and second of all the government can't do everything on its own," said Mayor Ted Wheeler at a Tuesday press conference. "We need the private sector to step forward."
The shelter plans to operate for a maximum of six months, stopping sometime in May, at about the same time that Peace 2 shelter will close. Peace 2, 333 S.W. Park, opened in November in a deal with developer Tom Cody and also has space for 100.
The Washington Center building is in the process of being purchased by Greystar Real Estate Partners. According to Greystar's managing director, Brad Schnell, the building will eventually be high rises.
The building won't see use until much later in 2017, so they decided to offer the unused space to those in need.
Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury emphasized the amount of work it took from everybody in the community to rally together during the severe weather.
"We can pull together when times are tough because we know Portland isn't just a place on the map," she said. "It's a community of hundreds of thousands of caring individuals." She half-joked that Marc Jolin, director of the city-county Joint Office of Homeless Services, hadn't slept in two weeks.
George Devendorf, executive director of Transition Projects Inc., the largest shelter provider in Multnomah County, said that the bout of severe weather is "really compelling us to think: What's the right level of shelter for Portland?"
"This winter, I think, is showing us that we really need to redouble our efforts to try and find that right number."
Officials also pointed to the approach of A Home for Everyone, the initiative between Multnomah County, Portland, Gresham and Home Forward to end homelessness — which focuses on getting people into permanent, affordable housing instead of establishing more shelter.
When asked if officials were still at all considering the idea of a larger permanent campus-style facility for homeless people, Wheeler said he wasn't going to "foreclose any solution now."
"I think this storm really illustrated the point that we have a long way to go — we need more resources across the board and we still have people freezing to death on our streets," Wheeler said, referring to the four hypothermia deaths of homeless people this winter.
Jordan Menashe said there's more space around town that could be used.
"I was a little bit disappointed in the lack of private sector follow up. I made a couple calls myself and got shut down by other individuals in the community — others in real estate. Everybody's got a different opinion on homelessness," he said.
"We don't have a long term solution yet — I hate to use the term Band-Aid — but we need to get these people off the street."
Columbia Shelter details
• Temporary, low-barrier overnight shelter for those experiencing homelessness — including women, couples and men all 18 and older, with priority for people 55 and older, those with disabilities and veterans.
• Plan to close in May 2017
• Hours: 7 p.m. to 6:30 a.m.
• Operate on a reservation basis. Reservations are handled over the phone at 503-280-4700 or in person at Transition Projects Inc. Day Center, 650 N.W. Irving St.
• Once a space is reserved, guests may continue to use the space until they no longer need it
• Multiple sleeping rooms
• Space for coffee, tea, books and board games
• Food not usually provided, guests should access a meal before arriving
• Bathrooms and basic hygiene supplies
• Staff will provide information, referral, support
• Pets welcome
• Find out more at tprojects.org