After years of sometimes heated public debate, the former Multnomah County Wapato Jail will reopen as the Bybee Lakes Hope Center on Friday.
A new 57,000-square-foot emergency shelter at the shelter will begin accepting referrals on Oct. 12. Phase two of the project is expected to open in December for longer-term housing and reentry programs. At full capacity, all of the wings can accommodate 500 beds.
Mayor Ted Wheeler is among those scheduled to speak at a grand opening and ribbon cutting ceremony on noon on Oct. 2. Other speakers will include property owner Jordan D. Schnitzer, President of Harsch Investment Properties, and Alan Evans, Founder & CEO of Helping Hands Reentry Outreach Centers, which will operate the facility.
"We're doing something that almost everyone said couldn't be done," Schnitzer said during an Aug. 12 ceremony where razor wire was removed from a fence partly surrounding the former jail.
Helping Hands Reentry Outreach Centers is a nonprofit organization that operates 11 homeless shelters and reentry programs in Clatsop, Tillamook, Yamhill and Lincoln counties. Its homeless shelter will serve 70 people. The reentry program will serve 228 people in three wings with their full services, including food, bed, bath, job training, rehabilitation, mental health counselling and other facilities.
Referrals will be made by partnering agencies and nonprofits. Helping Hands is so far working with Union Gospel Mission, Portland Fire & Rescue, Harbor of Hope and the Native American Rehabilitation Association of the Northwest.
Schnitzer is leasing the facility to Evans' organization for $1 per year for five years. Helping Hands has so far raised about $4 million in start-up and operating expenses.
TriMet is rerouting the bus that serves the North Portland industrial area in which the facility is located to go directly to it.
The facility manager will be Jeff Woodward, a formerly homeless Portlander who lobbied for years to use Wapato for the homeless. He was among some homeless advocates who argued that the medium-security jail and residential treatment center should be used to serve the homeless when it was still owned by the county.
Multnomah County Commission Chair Deborah Kafoury strongly opposed the idea, arguing that it was located too far away from existing social services on industrial land in North Portland.
The Wapato Jail was built in 2004 for $58 million but never opened after the Multnomah County Commission decided it did not have enough money to operate it. The county sold the facility to developer Marty Kehoe on April 19, 2018, for $5 million. He sold it to Schnitzer for the same price a week later.
Altogether, Multnomah County taxpayers paid more than $90 million for the Wapato Jail before it was sold to Kehoe without ever opening. In addition to the construction costs, the county also paid interest on the state and county bonds used to finance the facility, plus maintenance costs of around $500,000 per year.
After buying it, Schnitzer almost immediately set about trying to find an existing or new organization to operate it as a homeless center. After several potential operators fell through, Schnitzer was introduced to Evans by Oregon state Sen. Betsy Johnson. Schnitzer offered to lease the facility to Helping Hands if the organization could raise two years of operating expenses, which it did in a matter of months.
Helping Hands is still seeking funds to help finance renovations that will include adding windows and doors, client laundry areas, playgrounds, community gardens, pet enclosures and more. Their website with more details and donation information is here.
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