Multnomah County extends life of Old Town homeless shelter
Mike Evans admits he hasn't gotten far since he hopped off a Greyhound bus from San Juan, California, and started living on the streets of downtown Portland in 1995.
"I've been homeless here ever since," the 47-year-old says, leaning against the brick wall of the former bus station, surrounded by a scattering of orange caps, granola bars, a bottle of cranberry juice and an open packet of heroin.
"I do this s—t here to sleep," says Evans, pointing to a needle, "and to avoid my reality."
His friend, Mikey Berntsen, doesn't know where he'll fall asleep tonight. Despite living on the same blocks as Bud Clark Commons, the Old Town C3PO village, and the county's new Health Department headquarters, Berntsen remarks that he doesn't want much help from social services.
"If you've got to ask for it, then you're just begging," he says.
As for the bus station, it began a second life as a 90-bed homeless shelter last November, after Multnomah County began paying Greyhound Lines $30,000 per month in rent. The county originally paid Transition Projects $160,000 monthly to run the place, then handed over operations to Do Good Multnomah for $140,000 monthly on May 1.
The lease for the shelter was set to expire at the end of this month, but has been extended through the winter.
"With everything going on right now, it just wasn't conceivable to close a shelter if we didn't have to, and eliminate a safe sleeping option for 80 to 90 people on any given night who might have nowhere else to go but a sidewalk in Old Town," said DenisÂ Theriault, spokesman for the city-county Joint Office of Homeless Services.
Not everyone will be happy to see it stay.
"You've got shelters and the homeless. What it does is, the drugs come along with it," says Barry Kolin. "It's amazing how there's nothing in the Pearl, it's all down in Old Town. It's always been where they lift the carpet."
It's no secret why Kolin, 70, wants the city to clean up the area. The former impresario of Harvey's Comedy Club has been trying to sell the building for $4.8 million for months.
Others in the business community aren't looking to leave, but say the status quo is untenable.
Jessie Burke has plenty of stories — the week she counted six overdoses, and four homicides outside her hotel, the four-man drug dealing operation down the block — but stresses that addiction is often a coping mechanism for lives scarred early by abuse.
"It's not humane for anyone who's living on these streets," says Burke, who chairs the Old Town Community Association, "and it's putting our city as an ecosystem out of balance."
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