UPDATE: Building owner Barry Menashe says homelessness is personal issue for him

MENASHE PROPERTIES - The largely vacant Washington Center in downtown Portland will soon open as a temporary shelter for homeless men.Portland is preparing to open its second temporary homeless shelter since declaring a housing emergency in October.

According to Mayor Charlie Hales, a former business school at Southwest Fourth and Washington will open as a shelter for up to 100 men in coming weeks.

The Washington Center — as the building is called — is mostly empty. Classrooms of the now-closed Western Business College will be converted to sleeping quarters for homeless men.

The use of the building for a homeless shelter is being donated by its owners, Menashe Properties. Company founder and owner Barry Menashe said he approached the city about using the building, which is on the market, before it sells.

"I work downtown and see a lot of homeless people and thought, I've got a vacant building, why not let it be used for shelter?" says Menashe.

According to Menashe, the homeless issue is both personal and profession. He says that a brother and sister died in their 50s after periods of homlessness and living in shelters in Portland.

"There's a human side to this that I am very aware of," says Menashe.

At the same time, Menashe says homeless can cause problems for business owners by sleeping in their doorways and panhandling customers.

"From that perspective, it can be a problem," he says.

Commissioner Dan Saltzman, who is in charge of the Portland Housing Bureau, arranged for the building to be inspected and slightly renovated to accomodate overnight sleeping after Menashe approached the city. He says the shelter will be open three to six months, and possibly longer.

"That will get us through the winter, which is a critical time for the homeless," says Saltzman.

Saltzman says the Portland Business Alliance was also instrumental in putting the deal together, first meeting with Menashe and then coming together to the city to offer the temporary use of the building.

"This is an excellent example of the city and the business community working together, and I hope we can do more of it," says Saltzman. "If anyone else has a building we can use, we would be glad to hear from them."

The city opened a six-month homeless shelter for women and couples in the former Jerome Sears Army Reserve Center in Southwest Portland in November. Both shelters are being funded with $1.2 million approved by the City Council when it declared the housing state of emergency.

Hales and Saltzman both serve on the executive committee of A Home for Everyone, a public-private consortium formed in 2014 to reduce homelessness and increase the supply of affordable housing.

The Washington Center was built as a six-story office tower at 425 S.W. Fifth Ave. in 1963. A three-story mall was added at 419 S.W. Fourth Ave. in 1977. Western Business College was the largest tenant until it closed. Menashe Properties bought the buildings in June 2014 for $9 million.

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