Time running out for Wapato homeless shelter
Portland philanthropist Jordan Schnitzer and Multnomah County Commissioner Loretta Smith made a last-ditch appeal for elected and business leaders to open the near-used Wapato Jail for the homeless on Thursday.
"Time is running out. We need to make sure we have a place where people living on the streets can be sheltered. Fall is just a few days away," Smith said at a Sept. 20 press conference at the North Portland facility.
Schnitzer's development company bought the 22-acre property for $5 million in April. He then invited social service organizations to tour it and make a proposal for using it to serve the homeless. But Schnitzer says none have been able to find the funds for such a program, which he estimates would cost $5 million to $7 million a year.
"The private sector can't do it alone. The public sector needs to be involved, too," Schnitzer said at the press conference.
Maura White, the director of the Mother and Child Education Center, said the facility was large enough to make a real difference in the number of people living on the streets.
Schitzer said that if a progress is not made on using Wapato for the homeless soon, he will probably apply for a demolition permit on Oct. 1. The property is zoned industrial and is suitable for warehouses and light manufacturing.
Multnomah County spokesman Denis Theriault said Portland and the county would welcome such a proposal, but it has not received one.
"We would consider it," said Theriault, who works for the Joint Office of Homeless Services.
At the same time, Theriault said that much money would be better spent on shelters and other housing that is closer to existing social service providers.
"We provide a lot of shelters and severe weather beds every year, and more money spent on them would save lives," said Theriault.
Smith, who is running against activist Jo Ann Hardesty for the City Council, has consistently supported using Wapato for the homeless. She was the lone vote against declaring it surplus and selling it earlier this year to developer Marty Kehoe for $5 million, who sold it to Schnitzer for the same price.
Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury had long advocated selling Wapato, which was never opened because it lacked operating funds.
To read a previous Portland Tribune story on the issue, go to https://tinyurl.com/yc9va9y3.