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Nonprofit planning homeless shelters in Portland using survey to gives users' input on design, rules, amenities

PORTLAND TRIBUNE: LYNDSEY HEWITT - A homeless man sleeps on the ground on Southeast Morrison Street near the Eastbank Esplanade last week. Oregon Harbor of Hope, a private-sector initiative to address Portland's homeless crisis, is a small step closer to realizing its vision of building five or six 24-hour homeless shelters they're calling "safe harbors." The nonprofit conducted an independent survey of homeless people, and has a preferred site for its first shelter, though it isn't disclosing the location.

The survey of 103 homeless people was completed to "inform architects and facilities management people of the kinds of things in terms of amenities or features that are important to homeless people, looked at from what kind of place do you want a shelter to be," says Don Mazziotti, executive director of Oregon Harbor of Hope. The group includes about 60 or 70 people, he says. Mazziotti previously served as executive director of the Portland Development Commission, now called Prosper Portland.

Mayor Ted Wheeler has been supportive of the private-sector effort, which isn't using any public funding. At the head of the group is prominent Portland developer Homer Williams, of Williams & Dame, known most recently for its work developing the South Waterfront, which it touts as the largest economic development project in the city's history.

The nonprofit's efforts have been inspired by a campus-style facility in San Antonio, Texas, called Haven for Hope.

Williams initially sought to acquire a city warehouse in Northwest Portland on a site called Terminal 1, for a large multiservice center for homeless people modeled after Haven for Hope. After the city rejected that use for Terminal 1, he moved on to the safe harbors concept.

Opsis Architecture of Northwest Portland is working with the group to design a prototype of the first safe harbor shelter, with 20,000 square feet of space.

Before building the shelters, organizers wanted to understand what homeless people desire in a shelter space.

The survey results came shortly after the Point-in-Time Count results were released, the annual count of homeless people on the streets and shelters. The count recorded a 10 percent rise in the city's homeless population, although more people were in shelters instead of living outside.

"I'm not at all surprised by the 10 percent increase of homelessness," Mazziotti says.

Their survey, designed by Ibrahim Mubarak, founder of Right 2 Dream Too, and Michelle Kennedy, a consultant and volunteer for Harbor of Hope, was conducted at five places: Union Gospel Mission, Sisters of the Road Cafe, the Salvation Army Women's Safe Shelter, Right 2 Dream Too, and Clackamas Service Center.

Homeless people gave feedback on design and amenities, as well as rules and operating procedures for the ideal shelter.

Among some of the results, a majority of respondents said they desired a building versus a tent camp or tiny house; access to hygiene and food; easy access to downtown; and a collaborative relationship with Portland police.

Although they've landed their preferred first site, Mazziotti says there's still much to be done.

"We have identified a site. However, we must confer with the mayor and City Council about it. We're not at that point yet," he says.

"So we're making slow progress; we'll put it that way," Mazziotti says. "We just want the private sector to continue to be involved and assume responsibility for the challenge."

What homeless people want

Survey findings

Oregon Harbor of Hope's independent survey of homeless people found they prefer:

• A clean, safe, secure space where they are protected from violence and threat of physical harm, can rest, and have their basic needs met — shelter from the elements, food and personal care.

• The best location is either downtown or close to downtown with easy access to transit and services.

• A strong code of conduct in "safe harbors" with zero tolerance for violence or abusive/disruptive behavior.

• Pets allowed in shelter spaces, with clear rules.

• Single people and couples can successfully reside within the same shelter, as long as sleeping spaces are kept separate.

• Camping in or around shelter spaces, but only with strict rules about where and how camping can occur.

• Shelters need a strong, cooperative, collaborative relationship with the Portland Police Bureau.

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