On Dec. 18, 2017, officials from Multnomah County, the City of Portland, the Joint Office of Homeless Services and Transition Projects held a community meeting to talk about their plans for a planned shelter for homeless adults at 6144 SE Foster Road.
Officials convened that meeting to proactively hear concerns -- and begin working with neighbors to address them -- months before the shelter will open, likely in fall 2018.
As discussions and meetings with neighbors on the shelter plan continue, this site is meant to offer answers to some of those questions while also providing information about the next steps in the public conversation.
How do we choose sites for our shelters?
We look at unmet need in our community, then find suitable sites near amenities.
This is perhaps the most common question. The process of identifying sites for a shelter is difficult. We consider multiple factors, and none determines a given site’s viability all on its own. We begin with the need we are trying to fill, e.g. 100 to 120 beds for adults. We then look at the parts of the County where there is an unmet need for shelter. Then, within those areas, we look for zones that allow by right mass shelters of the size we are looking to create (typically commercial zones).
Within those broad search parameters, we look for properties that offer the best combination of building size, layout, and condition for use as a shelter. During this process we also look for nearby features such as proximity to regular public transit, community amenities, educational resources, recreational opportunities, and social services.
This exhaustive and thorough process yields very few viable sites. But among those, we then start talking with property owners to determine whether the property is actually available for a shelter use, for how long, and on what financial terms. We have to determine, given those terms, whether the amount of investment required to occupy and convert the space into shelter is warranted.
Questions have been raised about whether sites are evaluated for how close they are to schools, homes, businesses, child care centers, and other uses. In an urban environment, it is not feasible to exclude prospective shelter sites just because they are close on the basis of proximity to these types of uses.
Some community members have pointed out that the proposed shelter site is within a mile of schools and child care centers. While this is true, it has also been true of many of the homeless shelters and homeless services in our community for years. Parole and probation officers, as they do throughout our community, enforce supervision terms that forbid someone from living within a certain distance from schools and child care centers.
While we cannot foreclose having homeless services near these uses, we can and do work to make sure those services are a good neighbor to all adjacent neighbors and uses.
What about access to services?
Many services will be provided onsite; others are close by
Some residents have asked whether there are adequate services nearby to support the shelter. Many of the concerns appear to assume that the shelter will provide overnight sleeping accommodations only. That is not the case. This site is large enough to allow space both for night-time sleeping space and daytime activities and services.
Shelter residents will have 24-hour access to the facility. And they will have access to a range of services on site, including food, hygiene, storage, computers, and a variety of social services. The space will also be designed with an outdoor courtyard so that people can gather outdoors, socialize, smoke, etc. without having to leave the building.
But the building is also close to several very important services. Within a short walk or bus ride there is the Worksource center, a community center, Portland Community College, a library, and a wide range of retail services on 82nd Avenue. There is not a concentration of facility-based social services. But because the site is close to frequent public transportation service, individuals needing to reach clinics and other site based services will be able to do so.
Some community members have suggested we open the shelter in the vacant Aaron’s on 82nd or in the Fred Meyer building that is soon to be vacant. We have looked at both. The Aaron’s building would be too small to meet the need. The Fred Meyer, on the other hand, is too large and too expensive.
What about impacts on adjacent businesses and residents?
There will be no tolerance for criminal behavior at or near the shelter; there will be no tolerance for nuisance activity
This question applies to any new business or residential development. The shelter will be designed and run in a way that minimizes the impact on nearby businesses and residences. The shelter will be open 24 hours. That means no queueing in the evening or large releases of people into the neighborhood in the morning. Only people with reserved beds will have access to the shelter and the services provided there. There will be no walk-up traffic and no incentive for people who are not staying at the shelter to sleep outside or remain nearby during the day.
The shelter will have a screened off outdoor space, where shelter residents will be able to gather, keep larger belongings, animals, etc., thus cutting down the need to congregate on the sidewalks. Residents will be able to store their belongings in the shelter. That means they won’t have to carry their things with them when they leave the shelter, and there won’t be any accumulation of possessions on the sidewalks nearby.
Concerns have been raised about the how shelter residents might behave when they are in the neighborhood. Again, the situation is no different than when any other residential or commercial business moves into a neighborhood. The owner must set and enforce expectations of those who are being served. In this case, the shelter operator will have very clear expectations for residents regarding their behaviors both in the shelter and in the neighborhood.
There will be no tolerance for criminal behavior in or around the shelter. There will be no tolerance for nuisance activity that may not rise to the level of a crime. The shelter operator will work closely with immediately adjacent businesses and institutions to develop specific rules regarding whether and how residents of the shelter engage with those businesses and institutions.
The shelter operator will have sufficient staffing resources -- including security, if needed -- to enforce its rules. It will also fully partner with neighborhood and business associations to implement effective public safety strategies. And the operator will actively cooperate with law enforcement to hold any residents who do engage in criminal activity accountable for that activity.
Ultimately this shelter represents an opportunity for people enduring the traumas of homelessness to rebuild their lives. No one will be more invested in the success of the shelter and its positive integration into the community than those residents.
What does it mean that this is a “low barrier” shelter?
it means Reducing obstacles that keep those who’d otherwise want shelter from actively seeking it
The primary goal of low-barrier shelter is to remove the obstacles that often keep someone who is unsheltered from coming into shelter. That does not, however, mean relaxing rules and expectations around conduct.
Unlike a traditional shelter, a “low-barrier” shelter welcomes people with their partners, their pets, and their possessions. And it accommodates people who have classes, appointments or job schedules that might not fit with prescribed entry and exit times.
A low-barrier shelter also offers people access to the services they need, but doesn’t mandate participation in a particular program that may or may not work for them. For example, a low-barrier shelter does not require someone to sign up for a particular drug or alcohol treatment program as a condition of coming into shelter. But even though consenting to treatment is not required, residents with addiction disorders are nonetheless proactively encouraged to engage in treatment and receive support to help them do so once they are in the shelter.
The fact that sobriety is not a precondition for shelter also does not mean that residents are allowed to use on-site or near the shelter. Nor does it mean that they won’t be subject to criminal sanction if they engage in illegal activity in connection with their addiction.
Relatedly, some community members have understood “low-barrier” to mean that individuals who come to the shelter are not screened out based on their criminal history, and those community members have suggested that having a low-barrier shelter, in turn, presents a greater risk than having a higher-barrier shelter. In fact, criminal history screening is not part of any of our publicly funded shelters, whether they are low-barrier or not.
If a resident is on parole or probation, parole and probation officers, as they do throughout our community, enforce supervision terms. That includes requirements that they not be engaged in any illegal activity, and, if applicable, that they not reside in certain areas or within a certain distance from schools or child care centers. Anyone who resides in our shelters is expected, just like any other community member, to obey the law. And if they do not, they are subject to arrest and prosecution just like any other community member.
The reason our community, like communities around the country, have moved toward opening “low-barrier” shelter is to reduce the number of people, especially people with significant disabling conditions, who are living entirely unsheltered and often disconnected from services. This is a better outcome for those individuals, as well as 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 low-barrier strategy in a report on a national best practices. The federal report said the 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 -- including addiction disorders -- we can increase the likelihood they’ll get the treatment they need, and thereby improve their lives and the overall health of the community.
Who will have access to this shelter?
Priority access is for people would otherwise sleep unsheltered in the immediate area
Our community-based shelters offer priority access to people who would otherwise sleep unsheltered in the immediate area. We set aside shelter beds, and prioritize waitlists, for people referred by businesses, residents, and law enforcement officers in the immediately surrounding neighborhoods. The same will be true for this shelter.
While all Multnomah County residents will be able to put themselves on the waitlist for this shelter, priority will be given to individuals referred from the local area. This policy helps ensure that the shelter reduces the current impact of unsheltered homelessness in the area.
What does the timeline and community engagement process look like going forward?
Meetings with neighborhood, business groups lead to another community meeting
The Multnomah County Board of Commissioners voted to authorize a lease for the property Jan. 25, 2018, during its regular board meeting. On June 14, 2018, the Board voted unanimously to accept bids on a $3 million construction plan for the shelter, which is now expected to open in early 2019.
A group of neighbors, some who were critical of the shelter when it was announced, have been meeting with providers and Joint Office of Homeless Services staff since February, under the leadership of Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson, to discuss shelter operation details and craft a Good Neighbor Agreement.
Based on those conversations, we there have been three co-occurring conversations: (1) how the shelter will be programmed and how the community can be involved in oversight and support of the shelter; (2) overall public safety and health issues, and (3) plans for the continued economic revitalization of the area.
After these conversations, we will hold one or more follow-up large open houses to provide updates for anyone interested in what’s emerged from those conversations. At the same time, we will be having direct discussions with specific neighbors, including the Mt. Scott Learning Center, the 7-Eleven, and others as needed to address their specific concerns and develop any necessary strategies to ensure that the shelter is good neighbor.