Lilac Meadows: Resources and Frequently Asked Questions

HS2013-86.jpg

The Joint Office of Homeless Services is master-leasing a motel property near SE Powell Street and 82nd Avenue for use as shelter for as many 40 families with children and their pets.

The program, named Lilac Meadows, began taking in families in summer 2019.

Lilac Meadows resembles transitional housing and doesn’t look or feel like a traditional shelter with open-floor sleeping accommodations. Each family will have a private room and bathroom, part of ongoing work to improve our family shelter system.

Read more about this opportunity to help families in our community:

Postcard mailed to neighbors near Lilac Meadows | april 12, 2019 (PDF)

Letter shared with neighborhood stakeholders | april 12, 2019 (PDF)

Two-page FAQ with BASIC details and important information | april 12, 2019 (PDF)


What is the Joint Office of Homeless Services’ general vision for this new family shelter?

The Joint Office has entered into a master-lease agreement for the Briarwood Suites motel for use as transitional shelter for families experiencing homelessness. Human Solutions, a longtime shelter and housing-services provider, will operate the program, which will be named Lilac Meadows. The Multnomah County Board of Commissioners approved the lease unanimously on April 18.

mom and kid.JPG

The concept of master-leasing a motel or apartment complex for use as shelter for families is a common strategy in other communities. This best-practices model offers more privacy and an improved experience for families and is more cost-sustainable than many alternatives.

Discussions about such a shift began in spring 2017 as part of a conversation about how to transition from the temporary space at Human Solutions’ Family Center to a more permanent location that would be designed specifically for families with children, as had long been planned.

Master-leasing a motel gives families personal and secure spaces, as well as community rooms, on-site staffing, case management, and other amenities and services that support families’ stability and long-term housing success.  

The need for that shift became clear as the Family Center’s facility limitations became apparent, and as the need for family shelter in our County surged. Congregate shelter, where everyone sleeps together in one room, was not the right model for helping families stabilize at a time when local shelter stays were growing longer and longer because of our challenging housing market and the lack of appropriate housing for very low-income families facing significant barriers.

The Joint Office’s other primary partner in providing shelter for families, Portland Homeless Family Solutions, has moved to a similar model for its year-round shelter at a newly developed property in Lents.

This model is a better fit, particularly when families may need several months to find housing they can afford. What works for several days to a few weeks is very different from what works when families sometimes stay for months, and kids attend school, do homework, and need a secure space. Our very difficult housing market makes it challenging for families to find a long-term place they can afford.

Shelter residents will have 24-hour access to Lilac Meadows. They will also have access to a range of services, including meals, full bathrooms and laundry, storage, computers for job and housing searches, and a variety of social services designed to help families find permanent housing. The space will also be designed with outdoor communal spaces, giving residents a place where they can gather outdoors, socialize, smoke, etc.

While parents are responsible for their children’s safety, as anywhere, Human Solutions will have staff on-site 24/7, and indoor and outdoor spaces will be updated with child safety in mind as the move-in date nears. Human Solutions staff will ensure that children are connected to their school. After-school programming will be offered through Human Solutions’ successful Learn Links program, which is also offered at Human Solutions’ affordable-housing communities throughout east Portland and east Multnomah County.

What is the timeline for this project?

The Multnomah County Board of Commissioners approved the master-lease agreement with the Briarwood Suites’ owner on April 18, 2019. To provide sufficient time for current customers to relocate, and to prepare the site for its new use, we anticipate a June 2019 opening, with the exact date to be determined.

How can community members welcome the families staying at Lilac Meadows and engage in the program’s success?

There are so many ways to positively engage with and support this emergency shelter for families! Human Solutions has a robust volunteer program for its shelters, coordinated by Christina Newcomb. You can email Christina at volunteer@humansolutions.org. Here are some ideas to get you thinking:

  • Say a warm “hello” when you encounter families in the neighborhood. They are your neighbors for a time and could likely use a kind welcome and a smile :-)

  • Prepare and serve a meal. Human Solutions coordinates meals for shelter residents, including after-school snacks for kids. Christina can fill you in about how to get involved and what kinds of foods work best.

  • Donate needed items. Needs for the shelter and its resident families will vary, so your best bet is to shop Human Solutions’ Amazon Wish List, which staff members keep up-to-date with what’s needed most. Common needs include diapers, hygiene items and blankets. Contact Christina to get more information. Hosting a drive in your neighborhood, school, church, or community groups works well and builds community..

How was the Lilac Meadows site chosen?

Building on discussions with Human Solutions and County officials already under way before the Family Center closure last year, the Joint Office formally asked motel and apartment complex owners in Multnomah County last Spring to come forward if they were interested to enter a master-lease agreement for shelter.

The Joint Office received responses from potential sites in June 2018. One proposed site was an industrial building in a prohibited zone; the rest were hotels or motels of various sizes and configurations, both near and far from the central city on both sides of the Willamette River.

20171201-home-for-the-holidays-2-mn-01_38888317542_o.jpg

The Joint Office assessed potential sites to create a list of suitable options. Staff examined a list of key factors, including cost, size/capacity, suitability for providing shelter (amenities and other functions, office space, case management space, outdoor play space, community rooms, etc.) and proximity to amenities that families need such as public transit, libraries, schools, parks, social service offices, etc.

That review was balanced against the reality that many families who seek shelter are rooted in east Portland and east Multnomah County. Families have consistently said that shelter closer to their home communities works better for their stability and progress returning to stable housing. Those community roots help explain why Portland Homeless Family Solutions located their new, larger shelter in Lents.

Importantly, this new site is walking distance from relevant amenities and is well-served by public transit. Shelter residents can access a nearby park, SE 82nd Avenue's many retail outlets (including a grocery store several blocks away), Portland Community College's SE Campus, and WorkSource Inc., an excellent service for job seekers.

Because of its cost, location and suitability, the Briarwood Suites motel emerged as our preferred choice. It is located in a part of our community where there is need and where families have roots, and it has the right attributes to be a successful emergency shelter for families.

How will families access Lilac Meadows?

Multnomah County, like many communities, has a coordinated access system (211info.org) for emergency shelter and other social services to ensure fairness and enable important usage tracking. Families seeking shelter and related support services place themselves on a wait list and are contacted when space becomes available.

If eligible and directed to Lilac Meadows, families will come to the shelter and move in, staying until they find a more stable housing situation, ideally a home they can afford and stay in long-term.

If a family member has any legal restriction that requires they stay away from children, they will not be eligible to stay at Lilac Meadows.

Other past offenses, however, will not prevent eligibility. That’s because accessing shelter is essential for families to regain housing and economic stability. Without that opportunity, their children remain at far greater risk.

The Joint Office and its partners have worked deliberately over the past few years to remove some of the obstacles that often kept people from coming into shelter. The reason our community — and many communities around the country — are opening easier-to-access shelters is to reduce the number of people, especially those with significant disabling conditions, who are living entirely unsheltered and often disconnected from services. This is a better outcome for those individuals and for the larger community that is otherwise affected by increased camping activity.

Last year, the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness featured our community’s shelter strategy in a report on a national best practices. The federal report said that this approach helps “to make emergency shelter work better for people who have historically avoided shelter” and would otherwise be sleeping outside in our neighborhoods, in tents or vehicles.

By creating safe and supported shelter opportunities for people struggling with disabling conditions, we can increase the likelihood that they will get the treatment they need to improve their lives and the overall health of our community.

How does emergency shelter fit within the community’s overall response to family homelessness?

The best way for families to avoid homelessness — and for us to support them in doing that — is to maintain their housing. Last fiscal year, partners in our community homelessness initiative, A Home for Everyone, helped more than 6,300 people with rent assistance that helped them avoid homelessness. This is by far the most cost effective and least traumatic approach to addressing homelessness — for the families and our community.

If we’re not able to help a family remain in stable housing, the next best thing is to help newly homeless families return to housing as quickly as possible.

Lastly, when a return to permanent housing is not possible in the near-term, we welcome families into shelter and provide them with a safe, stable place to regroup and identify a path back to housing and economic security.

There, housing specialists work one-on-one with shelter residents to identify and remove barriers (getting new IDs, clearing old debts, etc.). We also work with landlords to request some flexibility and create positive rental relationships, including ongoing mediation or mitigation funding that supports a long-term housing situation.

Housing specialists continue working with newly housed families to ensure long-term stability, including rent assistance, workforce assistance and access to needed social services.

Last fiscal year, 5,640 people in 1,710 families received some level of permanent housing services, compared to 1,570 people in 450 families who spent at least one night in shelter.

How will Lilac Meadows affect neighbors and nearby businesses?

Lilac Meadows will be designed and operated to minimize impacts on its neighbors, like any new business. The shelter will be accessed via 211, through the County's coordinated access system, meaning only families with reservations can access the shelter. Meals will be provided inside to shelter residents. We do not anticipate any lining up as no one can access shelter services without a referral from 211.

Further, shelter residents will have access to an outdoor gathering space on the property, reducing the need for congregating elsewhere — although, as neighborhood residents, they can freely access area public spaces, as we all can. Families will have storage space for their belongings indoors.

Any concerns about how shelter residents might act outside of the shelter are no different than when any other residential or commercial business moves into a neighborhood. The owner/operator must set and enforce expectations of any staff or customers on site. In this case, Human Solutions will have clear behavior expectations for residents both in the shelter and in the neighborhood.

As anywhere else, criminal behavior in and around the shelter will not be tolerated. It is important to note that we do not anticipate problems along these lines; shelter residents are families experiencing homelessness, a fact that does not make them any more or less likely to negatively affect their surroundings than anyone else.

Human Solutions is committed to working with immediately adjacent neighbors, businesses and institutions to develop positive relationships around how shelter residents interact. There will be sufficient staffing resources — including security, if needed — to ensure a positive environment.

As an experienced shelter operator, Human Solutions understands the importance of relationships among neighbors, law enforcement, their staff and shelter residents. Everyone's goal is to create a welcoming environment for families in crisis and a positive or neutral impact in the neighborhood. We are confident that this goal can be achieved!

Ultimately, Lilac Meadows represents an opportunity for people enduring the traumas of homelessness to stabilize and get the support it takes to overcome the structural barriers to long-term housing and economic stability.

How much will this project cost? How will it be funded?

The master lease will cost approximately $30,000/month. We’re working with the County facilities team to finalize a plan for any renovations and associated costs. Upgrades will include adding a sufficient kitchen and group eating and gathering space, minor customization of office space and some exterior signage.

Funding for this shelter’s operations will come from the County’s current budget for family shelter. Renovations will be funded with General Funds dedicated to emergency shelter construction and improvements.

The primary goal with master-leasing is to provide a better shelter experience and more privacy for families who, more and more, face longer stays because of our housing crisis and related lack of appropriate housing.

Equally important is the need to maximize our shelter funds to serve the most families while spending taxpayer dollars wisely. Master-leasing allows us to offer personal spaces for families at a more affordable rate than paying for rooms in standard motels or building new facilities. The cost is also comparable to the cost of providing traditional shelter beds for people in families.

Master-leasing also means we can better ensure family safety and create a more normal living situation, a base from which to support families as they move toward long-term housing and economic stability, which is, of course, our ultimate goal. Both the Joint Office and Human Solutions are pleased we can enhance our emergency shelter operations for families with this new best-practices format.

How have families been sheltered since the Family Center closed in 2018?

The Joint Office has never stopped contracting with Human Solutions to provide shelter and support services for families experiencing homelessness.

To continue serving families after the Family Center closed, Human Solutions entered into two short-term contracts with local motels that had available rooms for families. Since then, families have had access to meals and support services from Human Solutions staff who are on site 24/7.

At the same time, another local provider, Portland Homeless Family Solutions, began to move its shelter operation from Goose Hollow, in Northwest Portland, to what is becoming a larger shelter site for families in Lents.

What is happening with the former Family Center property?

The short answer is that this site will be redeveloped into greatly needed permanent affordable housing, as had always been intended.

The longer answer is that Human Solutions purchased the property at SE 161st and Stark in 2015 with the support of Multnomah County and the Housing Development Center for two purposes: 1) short-term use as the County’s first year-round shelter for families until a longer-term shelter site could be secured, and 2) the potential for long-term redevelopment into affordable housing that would serve families.

While the original expectation was that the shelter would operate at the Family Center site for approximately five years, maintenance and cost issues led the County and Human Solutions to close the building in 2018 and continue to provide emergency shelter and support services for families in nearby motels instead.

Human Solutions is developing plans to bring affordable housing and an early childhood learning center to the former shelter site, with the hope of creating a community that provides permanent supportive housing (which is in very short supply in our region) alongside educational resources for families exiting homelessness. Both services have been identified as a priority need by the Rosewood community. We anticipate that this new community could come online as soon as 2021.