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Tensions rise over homeless plans

PORTLAND TRIBUNE: JONATHAN HOUSE - Mayor Charlie Hales wants to use this closed Portland Public Schools building for a homeless shelter and multi-service center.Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said Friday she is “stunned” by the “overwhelming” number of homeless people living in tents in Portland.

Mayor Charlie Hales says the number of homeless people is not any higher than in the past, but they are more visible because the city has developed the vacant lands where many of them have lived in the past.

Brown made her comments during a meeting of the Oregon Housing Stability Council where she signed a number of affordable housing bills approved by the 2016 Oregon Legislature.

A former Portland legislator, Brown told the council, “I’m in Salem most of the time, and I’m just stunned by the number of people living in tents in Portland. It’s just overwhelming.”

Hales was at the meeting when Brown made her statement. Asked by the Portland Tribune for a response, he said many people are probably stunned by the number of people they see living in tents in Portland these days.

But Hales insisted the numbers are not larger than in the past, and are probably lower following the opening of three new homeless shelters by the city and Multnomah County since the housing emergency was declared. He said they have only become more visible since he directed the police to reduce homeless sweeps after the City Council declared a housing state of emergency last October.

“A 1987 homeless plan said their visibility would increase after the city develops the land where many of the homeless have lived since the earliest shipping days,” Hales told the Portland Tribune.

The exchange happened the day after many Portlanders were alarmed when a homeless man allegedly shot and critically wounded another homeless man in a collection of tents along a sidewalk in inner Southeast Portland. Police are still looking for the suspect. Their names were not immediately released.

The shooting happened within blocks of where Hales wants to open a homeless shelter and multi-service center in a vacant building owned by Portland Public Schools.

Residents living near the proposed Navigation Center want more information about the project, which was first revealed by Hales in his recent State of the City.

“We really don’t know anything about it. There have been no meetings with the neighborhood association to discuss it,” says Susan Lindsay, a member of the board of the Buckman Community Association, which represents the neighborhood where it would be located.

School officials say the building is an unused storage facility on the southern edge of the former Washington High School campus at Southeast 14th and Morrison. Hales’ chief of staff, Josh Alpert, says the mayor hopes to open the shelter before the temporary overnight shelter that opened last year in Southwest Portland closes in a few months.

According to PPS spokeswoman Christine Miles, the city must meet three conditions to lease the building.

First, the city must prioritize homeless PPS students and their families for services.

Second, the city must continue paying for the Portland police officers who serve as school resource officers for PPS and the David Douglas School District. Miles estimates that cost at $2 million a year.

And third, the city must continue paying its share of the youth passes that allow PPS high school students to ride TriMet for free. Last year the city contributed $966,666 to the program. PPS contributed an equal share, and TriMet forgave that amount in fare revenue.