Bybee Lakes Hope Center on track to open this year
Philanthropist and businessman Jordan Schnitzer told a crowd gathered inside the former Wapato Jail on Feb. 29 that $4 million has been raised for the project, saying that several people in the room had chipped in a million each, but they wished to remain anonymous.
That would be enough to open the homeless shelter without any structural changes. But Schnitzer said he will press on to raise the $8 million to $10 million necessary to complete renovations — with the goal to open by September and fill 228 beds within the first year of operation on a referral-only basis.
"I can't imagine the lunacy of the city to not approve this program going forward," Schnitzer said, noting that the center will not create problems for nearby rows of warehouses, because all guests will be "bused in, bused out."
The jail has sat empty since it was built at a cost of $58 million in 2004, lending it the aura of a dusty time capsule or decaying movie set — with mounted security cameras, barred windows, privacy-free toilets, reinforced metal doors and cold concrete floors all testifying to the building's institutional origins.
Terry Shanley, director of operations for Day CPM, said the scope of the retrofit includes removing the bars on the mezzanine level of group dorms, tearing down walls, adding electrical outlets, extending partitions in sleeping areas, building laundry facilities, installing sidewalks, creating a children's playground and punching out new exterior windows closer to eye level.
"We've got to put the plan together first, and then we've got to go to the city and get the permit," Shanley said.
Portland City Hall can legally expedite that process, as well as the necessary zoning changes, because it has declared a housing and homelessness state of emergency. If approved, Bybee Lakes would be operated by Helping Hands Reentry Outreach Centers, a long-running Oregon nonprofit.
"I think we have to stop calling it a jail. I think we have to start calling it an unused facility that can turn people's lives around," said state Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward during her first visit to the building. "This is prime space."
Yet this is unlikely to be the last chapter in the saga of the jail that never was.
Many local political leaders are in favor of a newer paradigm, supportive housing, that combines addiction and mental health services with affordable housing. Officials with the Joint Office of Homeless Services have quietly suggested that people living in a new transitional shelter could end up back on the streets unless there are empty apartments awaiting them upon graduation.
Schnitzer, however, is not a fan of Metro's fundraising measure to create supportive housing and provide rent assistance, which will be on the ballot in May.
"Taxing successful people sends a message nationally that Portland is not a place to start or keep their businesses," Schnitzer told the Tribune. "I think it's the wrong way to raise money that needs to be raised."
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