Featured Stories

Other Pamplin Media Group sites


Hales keeps promise to close Multnomah homeless shelter

PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: KELSEY O'HALLORAN - Up to 165 homeless men and women have been staying at the Jerome F. Sears Army Reserve Center on Southwest Multnomah Boulevard every night. It is  scheduled to close at the end of the month.When the Sears Armory building in Multnomah Village opened as a temporary homeless shelter last November, many neighbors wondered if the city would keep its promise to close the shelter in six months.

After an emergency meeting with neighbors last week, Mayor Charlie Hales decided to keep that promise, and plans are underway to find a new place to house the shelter's 165 residents, who are now slated to move out of the building by the end of the month.

Hales' goal had been to transition the 65 women and 100 men and women in couples who currently sleep at the shelter into other shelters or housing through A Home for Everyone — a collaborative started last year between Portland, Gresham, Multnomah County and Home Forward with the goal of cutting homelessness in half. But the group recently discovered that none of the shelters are ready to open yet.

In a May 19 meeting with Multnomah neighbors, Hales, along with Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury, A Home for Everyone initiative director Marc Jolin and Transition Projects director of housing services Stacy Borke, sought feedback on the possibility of keeping the shelter open for three more months, until enough shelter beds are available to house the Sears residents.

Many neighbors, like Multnomah resident Jordan Rice, expressed disappointment with what they saw as a lack of communication from the city.

“We’re not pissed about homeless people being in our neighborhood,” Rice said. “We’re upset about how we’re being treated.”

Hales communications director Sara Hottman confirmed his decision to close the shelter.

“After hearing from the neighborhood last week, Mayor Hales decided on Friday to fulfill his commitment to the community and close the Sears shelter as scheduled, May 31,” she said via email. “Plans are in the works for the women and couples who are currently staying there.”

Roma Peyser, director of development for Transition Projects — the agency operating the shelter — said she and her team would be working to find another shelter space by the end of this week.

"We will have a site," she said. "No one will go back on the street."

Neighbors reaction mixed

The city acquired the decommissioned SFC Jerome F. Sears Armory in 2012 to use as an emergency response center for the west side of Portland in the event of an earthquake or other disaster. When Hales declared a housing state of emergency last fall, he had planned to open the building as a shelter for 180 days — the maximum allowed under the building’s deed restrictions with the federal government.

The shelter is open nightly from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. Sears shelter guests arrive at the building nightly on staffed shuttles driven from the downtown area. If a resident wants to return the following evening, he or she is guaranteed a bed.

Sears Shelter Manager Celeste Duvall of Transition Projects told Pamplin Media Group last winter that once people have a safe place to sleep at the shelter, they can more easily transition out of “survival mode” and into a more stable job or housing situation.

“When they can come here for a night and have some of those survival issues handled, then they can move on to 'how can I find a job,’ ‘how can I find a house,' 'what's my next step,’ ” she said.

The idea of a shelter initially drew a mix of fear and support from Multnomah neighbors; some worried that the temporary residents might disrupt the typically quiet and safe area.

But when the space opened to residents on Thanksgiving, many neighbors soon came on board with the idea. A Facebook page titled “Multnomah Supports the Shelter” has drawn more than 500 “likes” and provided a space for neighbors to organize volunteer efforts such as sack lunches, hot meals, clothing and supply drives, and music “jams” at the shelter.

The Facebook page’s administrator, Multnomah resident Beth Omansky, spoke up at the meeting to say she supported keeping the shelter open.

“I think that it’s important for us to put up with some inconveniences in order to help the larger community of people,” she said.

But for a small group of neighbors — those who live in the three homes closest to the shelter — the past six months have brought more than a few inconveniences.

Lisa Carney-Fenton said she and her family awake almost nightly to screaming and arguments outside the shelter, emergency vehicles responding to calls at the building and shuttle buses idling and beeping in the parking lot early in the morning.

“We’re sleep deprived, frustrated, angry and ready for it to be over,” Carney-Fenton said.

An informal poll at the end of the meeting showed that the room was evenly divided on the issue.

Hales assured neighbors that their feedback would direct his decision about whether to extend the shelter.

“I made a commitment that this shelter was a temporary solution,” he said. “The commitment is still there to close this shelter at the end of this month, and I do not want to break faith with you.”

Had Hales decided to keep the shelter open for three more months, he said his first move would have been to contact the federal government to see about extending the allowed shelter period.

More shelters planned

Through A Home for Everyone, city and county partners have been working to establish several shelters throughout the county.

The first site, located in a recently acquired county-owned building on Southeast McLoughlin Boulevard and 17th Avenue, could hold at least 100 single women and people in couples. The building is slated to open in September, after site improvements are made.

The second shelter could be available in July, and could hold up to 125 single women and people in couples, for six to 12 months. It would be located in inner Northeast Portland, close to bus and streetcar access.

A third, downtown site could house up to 50 single women. The building is scheduled to open in August, and representatives from A Home for Everyone are in discussion with the property owner over building terms and needed improvements.

In Gresham, another shelter would serve single women with a focus on victims of domestic violence. Slated to open in July, the shelter could hold up to 90 women and would be located on the light rail line and near services.

A Home for Everyone is also working toward establishing a “Navigation Center,” inspired by a San Francisco shelter of the same name. The center would provide a space for up to 100 adults to camp. The group is in negotiations with the site’s property owner and hasn’t set an estimated opening date.

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.