Shelter closure worsens homeless crisis
The regional homeless crisis got worse last week.
Multnomah County and nonprofit Human Solutions abruptly shut down the largest emergency family shelter in the region last Wednesday because of safety concerns about the building. The closure is a major setback for joint Portland and county efforts to respond to the homeless crisis.
Homeless service leaders previously had announced that no families would be turned away from emergency shelter. Now it is unclear when — or even if — it will ever reopen.
The shelter is located in the former Woodshed Restaurant and then the Black Cauldron strip club at 16015 S.E. Stark St. The county opened it with much fanfare in February 2016. It was expected to operate for six years and then be replaced by affordable housing.
Instead, a leaky roof caused a partial ceiling collapse Wednesday, prompting the decision to suspend operations there. Human Solution, which operates the shelter, says it will assess the building to determine its viability.
Oregon Public Broadcasting reports the shelter has been plagued by numerous health and safety problems since it opened, including rats and a lack of water for showers. Blue tarps covered the roof before it closed.
"The emergency evacuation raises questions about the county's strategy of quickly opening new shelters in buildings that often were built for very different uses, a strategy that has been a key part of the county's success in expanding shelter beds and bringing more people inside, at least temporarily," OPB reported.
The abrupt closure comes as the city-county Joint Office of Homeless Services (JOHS) is working to open another shelter in an empty grocery store along Southeast Foster Road near 160th Avenue.
It is opposed by many area residents.
The closure was announced Thursday morning by Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury and Commissioner Lori Stegmann, who represents the district where the shelter is located. It was made shortly after the county gave developer Marty Kehoe another 45 days to decide whether to buy the unused Wapato Jail for $10.8 million.
Multnomah County Commissioner Loretta Smith has long argued the North Portland facility should be used as a homeless shelter and service center. She wants the commission to discuss the extension this Thursday.
The commission agreed to help Human Solutions purchase and renovate the building as the county's first year-round, 24-hour emergency family shelter in October 2015. Human Solutions paid $950,000 for the building. The county provided a $300,000 loan and $400,000 grant for renovations through the Department of County Human Services.
The county arranged for Oregon Gov. Kate Brown to tour the shelter in late December. At a news conference there with Kafoury, Brown announced she would seek $5 million in additional funding for homeless families from the 2018 Oregon Legislature, including $2.5 million for those in Multnomah County.
More than 100 children and adults staying in the shelter were relocated to motels and the Freedom Foursquare Church, which is across the street. The church often is used for shelter during severe weather. The county's emergency management department assisted the move by providing additional mats and blankets.
Kafoury also has called for a general review of shelter facilities in the family system managed by the JOHS. She says that review will join ongoing planning about the next steps for the shelter system after two years of record capacity growth.
According to OPB, the county is considering a furniture warehouse at Southeast 148th Avenue and Stark Street for a shelter that could serve up to 200 parents and children.
OPB reveals history of problems
Oregon Public Broadcasting is a news partner of the Portland Tribune. You can read their story at: www.opb.org/news/article/homeless-shelter-evacuation-multnomah-county/