Just three days before it began sheltering specific types of homeless on August 15, elected officials, staff, and neighbors came for a look at the new $4 million shelter at 6130 S.E. Foster Road – now named the "Laurelwood Center".
Many residents and businesspeople had expressed deep concern when Multnomah County officials announced their plans to open the shelter in the area in late 2017. This led to a meeting in late December of that year which attracted an over-capacity crowd.
At the August shelter preview, Senior Director of Programs Stacy Borke for Transitions Projects (the operator of the shelter) told how stakeholders had come together on the issue.
"To accommodate the concerns of the business association and the neighborhood associations, an unprecedented part of the project was a creation of the Steering Committee, under the leadership of Multnomah County Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson," Borke told THE BEE.
"At these committee meetings, comprised of representatives of all of the neighborhood association representatives and business owners in the area expressed what they wanted to see in a shelter coming into the area," Borke said.
An example she gave was providing an on-site space for the clients who bring pets for a large "pet relief area" in the private secured courtyard.
"The committee also developed a 'Good Neighbor Agreement' that covers all sorts of aspects about what is expected of the program, [including] issues like safety, trash, and what it means to be neighborly; and, establishes really clear communication guidelines for everyone," said Borke. "And, going forward, we'll have regular 'Advisory Committee' meetings, bringing people together to talk about how the program is going, and how the community can get involved here."
Asked whether it is a "low barrier shelter", as originally announced, Borke replied, "Yes, the program is really accessible, helping people who are sleeping unsheltered to reduce every barrier there is to coming inside. So, people can bring their pets, their partners, and their possessions," explained Borke. "The goal is trying to help people come inside and reconnect with services."
A concern about the "low barrier" concept expressed by some neighbors is that the shelter accepts those individuals who might be alcohol and drug affected. "Being sober or abstinent is not a requirement for the program; But, we have expectations around [drug or alcohol] use, and rules about behavior, bringing it or using it on site," Borke said.
A 24-hour, full-service shelterAlthough the legal occupancy plaque states "Maximum Occupancy 286", the Laurelwood Center will host only 120 people: Women, couples, and with a priority for to those with disabilities, who are over age 55, and veterans. It is "100% accessible".
Staff services, including housing connections and a built-in medical clinic, have an operating budget of $1.3 million per year.
"I came out here today to support this great example of how we, as a city, are thinking more intentionally about the kind of shelter we are providing," Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler told us upon his arrival that evening.
"This shelter is a Navigation Center model shelter, which means it is not just an overnight place to stay," Wheeler pointed out. "When people come here, some will be connected to mental health services, others to addiction services, still others might get job coaching, or job-related services.
"The bottom line here is that it is not just a warehouse for people – it is to make sure that the residents have a clear transition strategy off the streets, into housing, and reconnecting with their future."
The Mayor praised the community stakeholders for their partnership with the project. "People been very receptive, and they understand that this could be a game changer for a lot of people who are on the streets."
Commissioner acknowledges contentious start
"Today is a day for celebration; [this shelter] represents the very best of our community," said Multnomah County District 3 Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson, during her formal remarks.
"I recall how, when it was announced in December, 2017, not everyone was as happy as we are today," reminisced Pederson. "At the meeting in the SEIU hall, across the street, I was listening to questions, concerns, and feedback from neighbors and businesspeople."
After her remarks, Vega Pederson told THE BEE, "This shelter represents hope; it also represents stability, and a new chance – so people staying here can take that next step and make the changes in their life that they want."
A Past President of the Foster Area Business Association, and also the owner of Red Castle Games, and a new commercial property owner in the area, Matthew Micetic, commented, "Homelessness is something that affects us as a community every day. Through the community engagement process, and influenced by our neighborhood, there have been innovative solutions found in the process of establishing a new shelter in our city."
Speaking to the hundred people gathered at the event, Micetic beseeched his neighbors, "Keep engaged! By being engaged, we can make this a success story of how people can transition away from [living on] the street, and change their lives.
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