Portland's newest homeless service facility is scheduled to open one week after a new report revealed the number of people without permanent housing in the region is much larger than previously estimated.
The new Portland State University report found that 38,000 people in the region were homeless for some part of 2017. That compares to 5,700 people who were counted as homeless during a federally mandated survey on one night that year.
The founders of Oregon Harbor of Hope said they are not surprised the new figure was so high. The nonprofit organization built the new Navigation Center and homeless shelter that was set to open just north of the Broadway Bridge on Northwest Naito Parkway on Tuesday, Aug. 27. They commissioned an earlier study by PSU students that estimated 26,000 people in the region were homeless for some part of 2016.
"We've all seen the real number now. We all knew it was larger than the government figure," Harbor of Hope founder Homer Williams, a prominent local developer, said at a press conference at the new facility on the morning of Monday, Aug. 26.
The PSU report and study both use a broader definition of homelessness than the single-night Point-in-Time count required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. That count only includes adults found living outdoors, in emergency shelters, and in transitional housing. The PSU report and study cover an entire year, and include children and adults doubled up in other peoples' homes, "couch surfing" with friends, living in cars or motels, etc.
Don Mazziotti, one of Harbor of Hope's directors, said he believes the homeless population will increase even more in coming years, in part because of the aging population. Many baby boomers have not saved nearly enough for retirement, and more and more destitute older people already are showing up at emergency shelters or can be found living on the streets.
Also speaking at the press conference were Columbia Sportswear President and CEO Tim Boyle, a major contributor; Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler; Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury; and George Devendorf, executive director of Transition Projects, the nonprofit organization that will operate the facility.
Wheeler called the facility an innovative public-private partnership that will help homeless people transition into permanent housing. He acknowledged that Portlander are frustrated by the lack of apparent progress reducing homelessness, and promised to call for new partnerships and collaborations in coming weeks. A new survey released by the City Budget Office found 88% of Portlanders are disappointed with government's response to the homeless crisis (see Your City Hall, page A5).
The 9,700-square-foot Navigation Center is designed to house up to 100 people at a time who will receive on-site medical, mental health and placement services. As many as 300 people are expected to pass through it each year.
Mazziotti said the region needs 10 more facilities like it to begin to meet the actual need — in addition to home-sharing services, more emergency shelters, more government-regulated affordable housing and more market rate housing. His organization also is funding trucks bringing portable showers and laundry facilities to the homeless, and will announce other projects in the near future.
The PSU report agrees that many more programs, facility and housing projects are needed. That is why it estimated the cost of serving all of the homeless people for 10 years at up to $4.1 billion, many times more than all governments in the region currently are spending.
In comparison, the one-year budget of the Joint Office of Homeless Services — funded by Portland and Multnomah County — is only $70 million. That is the largest single source of homeless prevention and service funding in the region.
The homeless services office opened a 120-bed shelter for woman and couples on Southeast Foster Road near 61st Avenue on Aug. 15. It is one of several new shelters that have doubled shelter capacity in recent years. More are in the works.
Plans for the Navigation Center and shelter were first announced in April 2018. The final cost was $3.5 million, with Boyle and his wife, Mary, contributing $3 million and the rest coming from other private contributions. An additional $600,000 was spent for environmental remediation, paid for by a city loan and a state grant. Portland and Multnomah County have agreed to pay $1 million of the operating costs of project.
The project, so far, has survived several legal and administrative challenges. Portland's Design Commission rejected a challenge by a nearby resident who complained the structure did not meet city design standards for the area.
Developer Jim Winkler, who owns an adjacent property, challenged the proposed cleanup plan approved by the city before the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality as inadequate. When DEQ upheld the plan, he appealed it to the Oregon Court of Appeals, which subsequently ruled he lacked standing.
Winkler also challenged the building permit issued by the Bureau of Development Services at the state Land Use Board of Appeals, which ruled it lacks jurisdiction and transferred the case to Multnomah County Circuit Court. Winkler currently is appealing both decisions.
Winkler said he supports helping the homeless and praises Williams for his commitment to the cause. But Winkler also said he believes there should have been more process and transparency on several of the decision that allowed the project to proceed.
You can read a previous Portland Tribune story about the new PSU report here.
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