The homeless navigation center and shelter in the Pearl District announced last week is backed by an impressive list of Portland-area movers and shakers. But the project must still jump through several hoops before it can open near the west end of the Broadway Bridge — and similar projects have stumbled in the past.
During the April 10 press conference where the project was unveiled, Columbia Sportswear executive Tim Boyle said he would start it by donating $1.5 million of his own money to Oregon Harbor of Hope, a nonprofit organization founded by developer Homer Williams. Also speaking in support were Mayor Ted Wheeler, Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury, Portland State University President Rahmat Shoureshi, and David Bangsberg, the founding dean of the joint Oregon Health & Science University-Portland State University School of Public Health.
Before the project can be completed, the organization must negotiate a lease for the property, according to Harbor of Hope director Don Mazziotti. The site is owned by Prosper Portland, the city's economic development and urban renewal agency formerly known as the Portland Development Commission. The nearly two-acre parcel was acquired in 1987 as part of the agency's 31-acre purchase of Union Station.
Mazziotti says his organization is hopeful that Prosper Portland's board of directors will approve a low-cost, multi-year lease in the near future. It could be modeled after the current lease for an agency-owned property in Kenton, where a tiny-house village for women is located and overseen by Catholic Charities.
The organization also must acquire the fabric pavilion that will house the shelter from Sprung Structures, a manufacturer that has been providing them to other cities for homeless shelters. They include San Diego, which has already purchased three of the large, insulated temporary facilities.
In addition, the organization will have to retain a qualified operator. Mazziotti says it will use a request for proposals because a number of them have already expressed interest.
And, Mazziotti says, the organization promises it will negotiate a Good Neighbor Agreement with nearby residents and property owners to minimize disruptions. On April 12, organization representatives met with the board of the Pearl District Neighorhood Association, which represents the area where the project will be located. Mazziotti and association chair Stanley Penkin both described the discussion as productive, with many questions asked and answered.
"There had not been any previous communication (about the project), but we had a good dialogue. We asked for an open and transparent public engagement process. At some point we will probably take a position on it," said Penkin, adding that he personally supports what Oregon Harbor of Hope is trying to do.
But before the project opens, the organization must feel confident it can raise $1.5 million to $2 million a year for its operations. At the press conference, Williams said he hoped the money would come from the private sector. Wheeler said he would do nothing to discourage that.
"We do not know how long navigation services will be needed at that location," Mazziotti says. "The 10 percent annual growth in Portland's homeless population calculated at the last homeless count suggests the need will last for some time."
The project is intended as a point of entry into the social service system, where homeless people can be evaluated and connected with the support they need to transition into permanent housing. It will also have 100 to 120 beds where they can stay while being evaluated and connected to services.
The idea of a homeless navigation center is not new. They are already being used in other cities. Former Mayor Charlie Hales proposed opening one near the former Washington-Monroe High School in Southeast Portland in an unused maintenance building, but negotiations with the school district fell through.
Williams previously proposed opening a large homeless shelter and service center approximately one mile to the north of the new location. The City Council agreed to lease him an empty warehouse at Terminal 1 in August 2016 for that project. But the council reversed itself two months later, when Williams was unable to finalize a lease with the city Bureau of Environmental Services, which owned the property. Terminal 1 was sold to Lithia Motors for $11.1 million in August 2017.
During the two months the Terminal 1 project was on the table, it was strongly opposed by many nearby residents and property owners. Such opposition has not yet surfaced to the new project, but could emerge in coming weeks.
The Old Town Community Association, the official neighborhood association that represents Old Town/Chinatown, had opposed plans by Multnomah County to open a 200-bed homeless shelter in a vacant warehouse within eyesight of the new project. The county has reportedly dropped that plan because of the high conversion cost. Association members will discuss the new project during their May 2 meeting.
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