County votes to lease Foster Road store for shelter

In spite of protests against building this shelter near a school and businesses, here’s why the Multnomah County Commissioners signed the lease …

This empty store on SE Foster Road near Holgate Boulevard will soon be “home” to as many as 120 residents, now that Multnomah County has voted to sign a lease for the building.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton

At a contentious three-hour meeting of the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners, held in their chambers on January 25, by a 4-1 vote they elected to sign a lease for the former “Winley Cash & Carry” market property at  6144 SE Foster Road.

At the meeting, scores of people testified for and against the cavernous, free-span structure to be outfitted with as many as 120 beds when it opens in late summer or early fall.

This neighbor is one of many who say putting a shelter on SE Foster Road near Holgate Boulevard will harm the neighborhood. Courtesy of Multnomah County

Many neighbors told the Commissioners they were concerned about what they said was a “lack of transparency” in selecting the site. Others brought up the proximity of the shelter to the Mt. Scott Learning Center, a nonprofit school tailored to special-needs students, located just south of S.E. Holgate Boulevard, directly behind the mini mall where the shelter will be located.

Area resident Michael Vevera testified that neither he, nor many of his neighbors, favored the location, because of a “lack of transparency, and reaching out to us. Now you want to railroad this down our throats,” he said.

Multnomah County Board of Commissioners listen to testimony for and against leasing a building to lease a building and turn it into a homeless shelter, on Foster Road near SE Holgate Boulevard. Courtesy of KOIN News 6

“We are in a crisis with housing and homelessness; it’s not something anyone can deny,” Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson said. “This isn’t easy. But sometimes, this job is about making the hard decision and trying to go the best way.”

Some present supported Vega Pederson’s statement, and said they welcomed the shelter in their neighborhood, and thanked the Commissioners for taking steps to address homelessness.

This neighbor testifies in favor of leasing the building on Foster Road near SE Holgate Boulevard, and turning it into a homeless shelter. Courtesy of Multnomah County

However, Commissioner Loretta Smith opposed the lease agreement, saying that neighbors should have had more time to comment and shape shelter operations before the lease was signed.

Further, Smith suggested that it was “unconscionable” to spend about $2 million for renovating the leased space.

It’s estimated to cost $2 million to turn this empty store site on SE Foster Road near Holgate Boulevard into a homeless shelter – plus a starting rent of $13,390 a month.

“Until we understand where the money is coming from, how much money we’ve got and what exactly we are paying for, we cannot approve the lease,” said Smith, who is currently campaigning for the office of Portland City Commissioner.

Joint Office of Homeless Services Director Marc Jolin told Commissioners that the Foster Road shelter is designed to bring in people who hadn’t been able to engage in traditional shelter – because it will be open and staffed 24 hours a day; and it allows couples to sleep together, and to bring their pets.

What neighbors and businesspeople say concerned them is that they believe this “low-barrier” shelter won’t require participants to be sober or drug-free – although using drugs or alcohol inside the shelter will be forbidden, and cause for removal from the shelter, according to the nonprofit which will operate it.

The lease document shows the agreement will span a decade, with two five-year renewal options, starting at $13,390 a month, and reaching $16,322 a month by the tenth year. The City of Portland and Multnomah County will split the cost of the $2 million renovation; the county shelter’s annual operating budget will be roughly $1.2 million, not including any attached social services.

Listening to testimony are Commissioner Loretta Smith and Chair Deborah Kafoury, before Smith votes “no” and Kafoury votes “yes” to lease a building on SE Foster Road near Holgate Boulevard for a by-reservation-only homeless shelter. Courtesy of KOIN News 6

Chair Deborah Kafoury said, “We have committed unprecedented new ongoing resources to the Joint Office of Homeless Services, which served 30,000 people last year, and will serve more next year … but we need to do more.

“So, I am voting today for this shelter, because I know it will save lives,” Kafoury said, casting her vote.

© 2018 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News™


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