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My View: Commissioner Loretta Smith wants Wapato open "today"

Published Aug. 30, 2016 -


COURTESY PHOTO  - Loretta Smith We are missing a giant opportunity to use the empty Wapato facility as a shelter. This region has homeless camps throughout our city going unchecked and unchanged without the County Board of Commissioners offering up Wapato, a building that we spend over $500,00 a year to sit empty. Wapato is a taxpayer- funded project that cost $58 million to build.

The decision to not fully fund Wapato as a jail did not rest with this Board. However, to utilize this facility in a manner that temporarily meets the crisis of homelessness in our community does rest with us.

We cannot continue to support placing our most vulnerable homeless residents in unhealthy buildings, contaminated warehouses, and unsafe environments that are zoned for commercial use. Industrial land must be kept to attract businesses offering family-wage jobs to our city and state. The struggle of homelessness does not warrant us treating people like they are inhuman when we are developing public policy solutions. We must always treat those who are homeless with dignity, respect and compassion.

Responding to my constituents, I urge the Multnomah County chair and Board of County Commissioners to support a resolution, ordinance, or a vote to open Wapato as a homeless shelter immediately. We should not ask residents, homeowners, and families to accept chronic homelessness in their neighborhoods if we are not willing to use every resource and tool we have available. Furthermore, we should be embarrassed and meticulously critiqued for even contemplating asking the business community, and our taxpayers, to support shelters in their communities without us tirelessly exploring every possible option including putting Wapato on the table.

No more excuses!

Multnomah County has the ability to partner with a number of social service providers, housing service providers, government assistance organizations, i.e., the Veterans Administration, Social Security, employment and training programs, regional transportation partners, public and private, in order to ensure access to the central city programs. To assume that we can not, collectively, work to ensure homeless individuals are connected to key services while residing at Wapato, fails to understand the infrastructure that is part of Multnomah County.

We have the values and the leadership on our board to make the courageous and correct decision to serve our community members who are homeless in a facility

Wapato is a facility that will not cost $100 million dollars to build. Wapato is a facility that does not come with enormous environmental issues. It is a facility that has the appropriate shower, toilet, kitchen, heating, cooling and community rooms that can serve 500 to 1,000 homeless residents……….today!

We need to step our game up, Multnomah County Board of Commissioners, and recognize that chronic homelessness is worsening by the day in our city and county. Affordable housing is an issue that will dominate our conversations for years to come.

The time is now for us to act.

Loretta Smith is Multnomah County Commissioner for District 2. She can be reached at 503-988-5219 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.