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Advocates hope homeless can use sheriff's office as shelter

PORTLAND TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO - The temporary homeless shelter in the former Sears Armory closed months ago, and its replacement is scheduled to close on July 22.A push by city and county officials to find safe places to sleep for homeless people living in a downtown shelter that’s closing soon may finally pay off. It’s likely the longtime headquarters of the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office will be converted into a haven for the homeless.

But first, the county has to find space for the roughly 60 sheriff’s employees who would need to vacate what’s known as the Hansen Building, at Northeast 122nd Avenue and Glisan Street, to make way for the new shelter. As of Monday, county officials had not yet inked a deal with the Portland Police Bureau to house most of those sheriff’s employees at the former Southeast Precinct building at East Burnside Street and 47th Avenue.

While county and city officials stress that the move is not a sure thing, homeless advocates are hopeful it will happen.

“My understanding is that it will go forward,” says George Devendorf, executive director of the nonprofit group Transition Projects Inc. “It’s encouraging.”

Transition Projects has been running the Peace Shelter at 401 S.W. Washington St. in temporary space donated by the Menashe family. In all, 267 people are living there. Devendorf praises the Menashes’ generosity, but says his group needs to shut down the shelter by July 22 to make way for a potential sale of the building.

The downtown site had always been a temporary fix, donated by the Menashes in January to deal with a situation that city officials formally recognized as a crisis late last year. When another temporary shelter at a former U.S. Army Reserve center in Multnomah Village closed in May, the Menashes approved providing additional space, known as the Peace Annex.

Devendorf has been part of the group reviewing potential sites to determine their suitability as either short- or long-term homeless shelters. The vast majority have not worked out, but the longtime sheriff’s headquarters would serve relatively well, with a large room the size of a small basketball court, he says.

“In comparison to the sites that we’ve been looking at, it’s in good shape, and it would not take much work to bring it online as a temporary shelter,” Devendorf says.

County officials have long viewed Hansen as needing replacement, and it is mostly unused. The sheriff’s office was planning to shut it down completely in the next few years when a new headquarters is found.

In addition to the Hansen building, people living at the Peace Shelter also will be relocated to a building owned by the nonprofit Human Solutions near East Burnside Street and 162nd Avenue that will open by the end of July.

In the long term, some also will move to a building recently purchased by the county at Southeast McLoughlin Boulevard and 17th Avenue.

But because those spots are slated for single women and couples, Devendorf says advocates are still looking for a long-term location for 100 men who are currently staying in the Peace Shelter, mainly age 55 and older, veterans or with disabilities.

The Hansen Building appears suitable to hold 150 or more, according to Devendorf. Though it likely would be used as a shelter for a year or more, he considers it more of a short-term fix.

“I don’t think people are talking about a 10-year stay for that location,” he says.

Arlene Kimura, president of the Hazelwood Neighborhood Association, says neighbors of the Hansen Building are concerned that the shelter plan is taking shape so quickly that neighbors have not been consulted.

“There was no public process for them to do this. I understand that it is not something they have to do, but it would be of significant value to the community to weigh in on this,” Kimura says. “We are also a little concerned that they are putting people where there are no services.”

It’s unclear how long the sheriff’s employees could work out of the city’s former Southeast Precinct building. The Portland Police Bureau had hoped to eventually again use the location as a precinct for patrol officers. It also has been looking at a major reorganization to put more officers on patrol. Police officials have considered taking advantage of the building’s central location by moving other units there such as the traffic division, which is now based in North Portland.