Concerned neighbors hold meeting Foster Shelter meeting

That elected officials didn’t attend, didn’t stop this group of neighbors from expressing their concerns …

Whether or not this vacant store on SE Foster Road will become the next homeless shelter was the topic of concern at a recent meeting.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton

Members of an ad-hoc group called Southeast Allied Communities (SEAC) expressed dismay and concern that city and county elected officials hadn’t kept what they believed was a promise – another public meeting regarding the Foster Road Shelter – they believed had been made at their meeting back on December 9, 2017.

“Also, on the City/County Joint Office of Homeless Services website, officials promised a second meeting for neighbors would occur in May or June this year; that second meeting has yet to occur,” said SEAC member Tyler Bechtel.

In the former Arleta Branch Library building, a group holds a public meeting to discuss Foster Road Shelter.

So, on in mid July, SEAC gave elected leaders and others interested in the subject notice that they’d hold a meeting on the topic at The Hallowed Halls, formerly the Arleta Branch Library building, on July 31, Bechtel said.

At the meeting, Bechtel said his being at the meeting wasn’t due to casual interest. He said he lives about a mile away, in the Creston-Kenilworth neighborhood. And, in January, he was stonewalled by elected official after he requested official records related to locating the Foster Road Shelter.

“I filed a public records request to Mayor Ted Wheeler and two Multnomah County officials and the Joint Office of Homeless Services (JOHS) Director Marc Jolin asking for records pertaining to this shelter. The City withheld documents and said that they believed there was an exemption.

“We had a disagreement about whether or not they would release a redacted document; they chose to withhold the entire document, in its entirety, so I bought a lawsuit against them,” Bechtel told East Portland News.

Even after winning a “freedom of Information” suit to gain information about locating homeless shelters, heavy redaction provides little, or no, information.

That legal action was settled in May, Bechtel said, but two city documents, including an e-mail from the JOHS to the Mayor’s office, detailing the plan for homeless shelters going forward, was heavily redacted.

He showed pages of documents, the text totally blacked out, regarding three potential sites.

About the “Steering Committee” for the Foster Road Shelter, Bechtel stated that it was comprised of hand-picked members; and, public comment at those meetings – on hiatus for the summer – is limited to the topic that the meeting’s topic of discussing. “For example, at their second meeting, comments were to decor – yes, shelter decorating items, such as the color of paint to be used, murals and other aesthetics,” Bechtel pointed out.

SEAC Treasurer Christopher Bacher, serving as moderator, begins the meeting.

“The chief concern expressed by those involved with SEAC is public safety – and, therein lies the problem,” Bechtel observed. “And, even with a non-binding ‘Good Neighbor Agreement’ in place, it’s unclear with which of the four nearby neighborhoods a complaint is lodged.”

As the meeting began, with about 100 in attendance, leaders made it clear that Mayor Ted Wheeler, Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury, Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson, JOHS Director Marc Jolin, and George Devendorf, Executive Director, Transition Projects had been given advance notice and declined to attend, or send representatives in their absence.

Speaking about how homeless shelters affect police officers is Portland Police Association President Daryl Turner.

Portland Police Association President Daryl Turner did agree to speak at the meeting. “I think we are misplacing some shelters in neighborhoods, putting them here and there, with no ‘wraparound services’ for people giving them an ‘off-ramp to success’.”

In the meeting some decried locating the shelter attached to a 7-Eleven store, next to a brewery, and across the street from a high school that helps at-risk students.

Discussing the Foster Road Shelter, in place of elected or homeless management officials are Jeff Merrick, Daryl Turner, Steve DeLoe, Gray Ayer, and Southeast Allied Communities’ Sage Jensen.

Others talked bout the cost overrun, now up to $3 million for renovating the space – even though the convenience store’s parent corporation (Seven-Eleven Japan Co., Ltd.) has the first right of refusal to purchase the property.

At the time of the meeting, no construction permit has been issued yet; none of the reports of been filed, and no construction contracts have been signed, attendees learned.

Not all attending the meeting objected to the homeless shelter; two individuals walked out the meeting to talk with reporters gathered on the building’s front porch.

One commented, “I don’t feel that there is an opportunity in this room for people like me to voice they are in support of the shelter.”

Neighbor Jill Winsor tells reporters why she left the meeting, and supports the Foster Road Shelter.

Another person, Jill Winsor, who said she lives in the neighborhood, said, “Our public elected officials are doing everything they can and using every resource available to them.

“How can we not be passionate [about homelessness] when people are struggling every day?” Winsor asked rhetorically. “Everyone deserves a safe place to call home; this will make some of us uncomfortable, but just seeing the discomfort that our [homeless] community members are experiencing, I’m willing to experience a little discomfort for those people.”

It is possible that the promised public meeting about the Foster Road Shelter may be planned for October, but that has not been confirmed.

© 2018 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News


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