East County homeless shelter plan met with firestorm of objections

Find out what happened when Multnomah County officials held a public meeting at the Hansen Building, the planned location of their latest shelter …

The Hanson Building auditorium is filled to capacity as a meeting gets underway – originally scheduled to provide details of the new outer East Portland homeless shelter’s planned operation.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton

Perhaps Multnomah County thought the public meeting held in the auditorium of what was once the home of the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office – the Hansen Building – on July 7 would go along the lines of the meeting they held in June in Sellwood, where they discussed plans for what they call the McLoughlin Resource Center.

At that June meeting to discuss the county’s plan to turn part of the former Society of St. Vincent de Paul Portland Council building at 5120 SE Milwaukie Avenue into a “couples” homeless shelter, public conduct was overall rather civil – with questions asked and being answered.

Transition Projects Inc. Director of Housing Services Stacy Borke, A Home For Everyone Initiative Director Marc Jolin, and Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury listen neighbors as they express outrage that the building is swiftly being converted from the Sheriff’s Ofice to a 200+ bed homeless shelter.

By the expression on their faces, officials from Transitions Projects, the City of Portland’s project A Home for Everyone, and Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury were not anticipating the level of resistance they were encountering to the idea of opening a 200-bed homeless shelter in the building located on NE Glisan Street, just east of NE 122 Avenue.

It was revealed in late June that the Hansen Building would become a semi-permanent homeless shelter by the end of July.

While no one became physically violent, the voices of many of those who testified quivered with anger and rage as they spoke – and often shouted – at the leaders seated at the front table of the room, which was packed standing-room-only.

The cacophony rose to a point that Chair Deborah Kafoury said, “If you just want to shout at us, were willing to sit here and listen for the entire time. If you want answers to questions, if these are questions, you’ll need to allow us to answer.”

There were far more assertions and accusations than questions from those at the meeting.

Resident Brenda Jackson says excluding neighbors from decision making about the location of the homeless shelter is discouraging.

“As it is, we have a lot of these people sleeping on the streets, going through our garbage, and we have shopping carts all over the place,” stated Brenda Jackson when she got the microphone.

“I would like to know why [Portland] Mayor Charlie Hales is not here this evening,” Jackson continued.

“You wonder why people like me are very discouraged,” Jackson continued. “As a retired professional, I am very disheartened; you’re talking to middle America right here. The people that are so frustrated with our government right now – that’s who you’re talking to. I am not pleased.

“I’d like to know how many people made this decision,” Jackson asked.

Kafoury replied, “I made this decision. This is how it operates.”

“Where do you live?” someone shouted out.

“I live in ZIP Code 97202, in Eastmoreland,” Kafoury replied.

The crowd groaned aloud, and shouted jeers; one audible comment was “That explains a lot!”

Kafoury replied to the murmuring saying they’d just announced a new homeless shelter, the McLoughlin Resource Center, located a half mile from her house.

Encouraging establishing Block Watch programs is Office of Neighborhood Involvement Crime Prevention Coordinator Celeste Carey.

The crowd quieted down a bit when Celeste Carey, from Portland’s Office of Neighborhood Involvement Crime Prevention, took the microphone, and reminded people in the room that she’s been helping reduce crime in the area for 16 years.

“I encourage you to ask questions in a way that provides you the answers you need to hear,” Carey advised.

“Right now, I’m working with a lot of people who are transients, who are not interested in services,” explained Carey. “Those people, called ‘resistant to services’ – we’re dealing with several of them close to Midland Library – are already a big issue.

“This [shelter at the Hansen Building] is going to happen,” Carey said. “So, it’s up you to organize a Block Watch; I’ve helped other neighborhoods and I know this can help you.

“I’ll be working with [shelter operators] to find out what we can do to make this safe,” Carey promised.

The fear of increased crime is a concern expressed by many people attending the meeting.

A recurrent theme of the comments boldly stated, or in some cases shouted, was that opening the homeless shelter would increase crime, bring harm to the children at Menlo Park Elementary School – located about a third of a mile to the east – and decrease home values.

Several people referred to unidentified “statistics” to back up their assertions that crime and drug use is higher near homeless shelters than in other areas.

This Parkrose High graduate says he’s experienced hard times, but fears that the shelter, along with the nearby OLCC Bottle Redemption Center, will create a “vortex of crime” in the area.

“I’ve seen the police kick ‘campers’ out of the school yard; and when the crime rate goes up, the grocery stores close,” said a man who refused to identify himself, other than as being a Parkrose High School graduate.

Other audience members tagged on to his comments, citing the closing of Fred Meyer stores in Rockwood and in the Centennial neighborhood as examples.

A Home For Everyone Initiative Director Marc Jolin says the shelter will abide by a “Good Neighborhood Agreement”.

A Home For Everyone Initiative Director Marc Jolin explains that all seven of the shelters operated with Transition Projects have “Good Neighbor Agreements” that specifies how they are to  work with neighbors regarding public safety issues.

“This means working with the police, putting together safety plans, having staff that are trained to work with the people who come in the space, and the people who live here are held accountable for their behavior,” Jolin explained.

“They cannot bring ‘hangers-on’, they cannot have others waiting for them outside the shelter,” Jolin went on. “We want this to be an asset for the people that are here, but also a benefit for the community.”

Multnomah County Chair Kafoury says homeless shelters are needed in all areas of the city.

Kafoury spoke up, saying that homeless people in every part of the city. “This is why we are setting up shelters all around our community – to get people off the street. When they get into the shelter, and when they can get services they need, they won’t be sleeping outside, in the library parking lot.

“We want them to sleep inside where there is staff – 12 staff on site – where there are services to get them off the street and into permanent housing,” Kafoury said.

When Kafoury added, “If something goes wrong, you call us, and we’ll fix it,” the crowed seemed disbelieving.

One person asked why homeowners – many who have lived in surrounding neighborhoods for decades – weren’t asked, or even informed about the shelter.

Chair Kafoury says because she ran on the platform of fighting homeliness, and was elected to office, she has the authority to sanction shelters throughout the county.

“In this democratic form of government, when you elected me as your County Chair, I ran on the position of getting people off the street and back in the housing,” Kafoury replied. “Part of getting people off the street is getting them into shelter. You elected me to do this.”

“We’re not going to reelect you!” replied the neighbor

“That’s fine; you have the right to do that,” Kafoury rejoined.

The shelter will be staffed 27/7, says Transition Projects Inc. Director of Housing Services Stacy Borke.

When asked if the program participants are kicked out of the shelter during the day, Transition Projects Inc. Director of Housing Services Stacy Borke said, “The program is 24 hours a day. We will have staff on-site engaging people in moving up and out of the shelter – that is absolutely our goal. We don’t shut down in the morning and turn all the people out into the street. It is not a locked facility, so people can come and go during the day.”

Man in the crowd commented, “That’s why we’re worried – most of us go to work during the day. Our houses get broken into, are things get stolen, our property gets vandalized – and our children disappear!”

Some audience members pointed out reports about the poor condition of the Hansen Building – including it being an unreinforced masonry structure with a leaking roof, lead paint, asbestos-covered pipes and ducts – and plagued with sewer flies.

“The Sheriff’s Office staff is not moving out of the building because it’s unsafe,” Kafoury asserted. “They were planning on staying here for another four years, until a new facility was built. They are moving out of here because there are about 40 people left in this building, as you can see is massive.

“And, this is to be a ‘temporary’ shelter location,” Kafoury continued. “I’m not going to put a timeline on it; our plan is [for it to be used as a shelter] for approximately for a year to 18 months.”

Why not Wapato?
“Why not use Wapato Jail?” was a recurring question spoken throughout the evening.

“Wapato Jail is not ready,” Kafoury replied. “There is no kitchen. It’s too far away from services. It’s too difficult for people to go into town.”

With a TriMet schedules in hand, one woman in the audience challenged the transportation objection. “There is regular daily bus service going past Wapato Jail that connects with the TriMet Max Light Rail system,” she said.

Marc Jolin added, “Locating people miles away from where they are living is not what we want to do.”

-11 This small business owner says she fears the homeless shelter will negatively affect both her home and business.

“I operate a clinic not far away, and I’m nervous to go outside,” said a woman in the back of the auditorium. “I feel I can’t carry any sensitive patient material because I’m scared of getting mugged.

“I am responsible; I pay my taxes, my business taxes, my personal taxes and I’m ‘toast’. When I got wind of this I was thinking ‘my dear God’,” she continued.

“Celeste Carey is a wonderful person, helping us start a Neighborhood Watch program. We’re good at keeping an eye out. Now were going to have to keep a bigger eye out,” she added.

“It’s not a crime to be homeless – but it’s also not a crime to be a resident, over 60. I’ve got a house and my business here – congratulations; you devalued both of them. I’m concerned about my safety, and our children, and the quality of life in our neighborhood.”

Todd Hesse says he welcomes the homeless shelter because many of those who will use it already camping in the area.

“I am a resident here in Hazelwood, so this directly affects me,” said another neighbor, Todd Hesse.

“I hear a lot of frustration and anger about [homeless] people ‘coming into’ our neighborhood,” Hesse said. “Look around; go to our parks and vacant lots and you’ll see them – they are here already.”

Even with many people trying to shout him down, Hesse continued, “We need to address this problem. I have two children in Ventura Park Elementary. If we don’t want them in our parks, we need a solution. I welcome this project and support the work being done by city and county on our behalf.”

Along with other business and commercial property owners seeking “legal injunction relief” is Timothy Brunner of Axis Design Group.

“I moved my business here because I think that the Gateway district has the greatest potential for development in the City of Portland,” said Axis Design Group owner Timothy Brunner.

“This is not an ‘identity of the community’ that we – and I represent many business owners along 122nd Avenue – believe will improve the area,” Brunner said. These are clients of ours who have invested millions of dollars on the street, providing hundreds of jobs. They are outraged.”

Brunner noted when they change the use of a building or property, the owner goes through a process, including neighborhood outreach, pre-application and the payment of numerous fees. “You don’t just change the occupancy of the building in a few weeks; It takes us years. We think there’s something odd about this change of occupancy, being done in weeks.’

Asking those who are opposed to contact him, Brunner said, “I have talked to some pretty substantial business owners in this area. There is already a legal injunction relief process started.”

His statement drew explosive and sustained applause.

By August, the Hansen Building will be Multnomah County’s newest large-population homeless shelter.

The Hansen Building will primarily house women, couples and men over 55. Also, veterans will receive preference.

The shelter will cost an estimated $1.3 million annually to operate, with a staff of roughly a dozen people providing services, including access to housing, health and income resources, as well as referrals.

“We have moved one step closer in meeting our goal to find 650 new shelter beds this year,” Chair Kafoury said. “With these new beds, we will be able to meet the needs of some of our most vulnerable residents.”

© 2016 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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