Foster Road homeless shelter plan raises curiosity, fear

Outer East Portland has two shelters; discover where officials say they’d like to place a homeless shelter on Foster Road …

The meeting room quickly to capacity with whose who want to learn more about, and question, a homeless shelter being sited on Foster Road.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton

When leaders of Multnomah County and the City of Portland convened a meeting on December 18, 2017 to introduce the plan of a new Multnomah County homeless shelter coming to Foster Road, organizers said they had no idea how many people would attend.

As Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury walked up to the venue, the SEIU Local 503 building at 6401 SE Foster Road, she framed the meeting for East Portland News, saying “This is our first opportunity to talk to the community about we’re considering, and to hear their feedback about how we can make this a mutually beneficial location.”

This store front is where officials may site of a new homeless shelter, but the lease hasn’t been signed, yet.

Asked about the location of the proposed shelter, 6144 SE Foster Road in the former “Winly Cash & Carry” storefront, Kafoury replied, “As you know, we’ve sited many shelters recently; we’ve heard from the community that they do not want people sleeping on the streets, and feel compassionate about having people sleeping indoors at night.

Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury prepares to listen to testimony.

“We agree; and we’ve put shelters all around our community,” Kafoury continued. “Instead of concentrating shelters in downtown Portland, as they have traditionally been, spreading them around the community – where people live, work, and have their friends and family – is a place-based way to get people who are experiencing homelessness integrated back into the community.”

Outgoing Foster Area Business Association (FABA) President Matthew Micetic, owner of Red Castle Games, and also a brand-new property owner in the area, said – speaking only for himself, he pointed out: “I think there can be a knee-jerk reaction of ‘not wanting this in my backyard’ – this shelter will be located between my store’s current location, and future location.

Local business owner Matthew Micetic Red Castle Games listens intently to issues raised by those giving testimony.

“If this is can be a space where people can sleep, instead of ‘camping’ in front of businesses, on sidewalks or backyards, it could be a positive,” Micetic mused. “I’m trying to take a pragmatic approach, trying to see what if the whole story this coming out of this, and learn what the game plan is.”

Eric Furlong co-chair of the Foster-Powell Neighborhood Association (FPNA) and a resident of the neighborhood, living near the corner of SE 60th and Francis Street, commented that FPNA had not yet taken a position on the shelter. “Speaking for myself, my personal feelings are that I feel the homeless situation needs to have solutions. I am open to all solutions that could work for all the stakeholders involved.”

The meeting room quickly filled, leaving standing room only. For public safety concerns, the outside entry doors were locked after the legal occupancy capacity for the hall had been reached.

Ready to listen to questions and concerns about a new homeless shelter proposed for Foster Road near 60th Avenue are Joint Office of Homeless Services director Marc Jolin, Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury, Multnomah County Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, and Transition Projects Director George Devendorf.

As the meeting began, and government officials introduced themselves, Multnomah County Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson said, “I know they’ll be a lot of questions here tonight; we’re here to talk about what this shelter might look like, and how it meets the community’s needs.”

She pointed out that she and her family live near the “Family Shelter” on SE Stark Street, and the Hansen Shelter on NE Glisan Street. “We do have homeless problems and we’re working on ways to solve them; the ultimate goal is finding permanent housing for people.”

Mayor Ted Wheeler tells of his efforts to improve policing and quality-of-life issues in the city.

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler began his remarks with, “Let’s start with the obvious; I think that everyone agrees we have a humanitarian crisis on our hands here in Portland.”

Wheeler said that he hears requests for his help to “get people who are living on the streets off, and help them stay off” – and, with the added request, “Whatever you and your colleagues do, make sure that what you do is compassionate, in terms of the approach.”

Many people wait their turn to ask questions and give their opinions.

With that, the meeting was opened to questions and comments from attendees. Many forcefully stated opinions and concerns of how opening a shelter in the area would reduce the quality of life in the community.

Alex Krebs, of Tango Berretín, asked if disturbances within 500 feet of the shelter would be prevented or abated.

Asking pointed questions about the shelter is Alex Krebs of Tango Berretín.

“Research has led me believe that many times, within 500 feet of the shelter, there is an increase in disturbances, not necessarily crime, but disturbances,” Kreb said. “My business is 350 feet away [from the proposed shelter site], and the idea of coming into my business and hose down urine off the sidewalk is something I don’t want.

“I went to businesses near Willamette Shelter [on SE Milwaukie Boulevard, in the northern edge of Westmoreland]; they said since the shelter went in they weren’t happy about the public disturbances in the area,” Krebs said. He added, “How we make sure it’s clean and safe within the vicinity of the shelter?”

Chair Kafoury was repeatedly shouted down as she attempted to reply to this, and other questions posed.

“There are a lot of decisions that have yet to be made,” Kafoury said, before a chorus of loud remarks again caused her to stop.

Joint Office of Homeless Services director Marc Jolin took the microphone and said, “The reason this meeting is important is to get clarity around this shelter.

“To the comment about the Willamette Shelter: it is open 24/7 so people do go around the area,” Jolin said. “What we’re talking about is ‘evening only’, a place for people to come where they have a ‘reserved’ bed, and only people who are staying there have a reason to come there – there are no daytime offered services.”

At the proposed Foster Road shelter, Jolin explained, lodgers with reserved space come in, store their belongings, take a shower, have an access to services that they need to move out a shelter and back into permanent housing.

Joint Office of Homeless Services director Marc Jolin tells why shelters, such as the one proposed for the Foster Road area, are necessary.

“This is an opportunity for people to rebuild their lives, and they take that opportunity seriously,” Jolin said. “We’re trying to create a shelter to address the very specific concerns you have about impacting neighborhood livability. We will absolutely work with you between now, and when it opens in the fall, with a public safety plan, public safety partners, and the neighbors, and other stakeholders.”

A heckler in the audience shouted, “You don’t care at all!”

Jolin replied, “Yes we do care, that’s why we’re doing it in this way.”

Mason Layman of Boro Art Supply, located in the large Watershed Building just north of the Willamette Shelter was next to testify.

“Since the shelter opened, there people stealing our property, and our customers’ property,” Layman said, adding that many businesses and a trade school rent space in the building.

“I have filed multiple police reports, reports to the city, and with TriMet about the garbage being left out of the building,” Layman said. “And, we talk to the shelter many times and nothing changes,” he said.

The sidewalk and parking area has been littered with debris, and human emissions the business owner related. “We open our door and find people doing drugs, or they’re fighting and screaming,”

In a follow up telephone interview, East Portland News asked Layman if it was possible to differentiate between homeless people coming up to the area from the Oaks Bottom Natural Refuge area and the Willamette Shelter.

“It’s a mixture of people from the shelter and ‘campers’; looking out my window, I see tents in the bushes right now,” Layman replied. “More are probably from the shelter,” he added.

“Lately, they’ve had a few people come over here and pick up trash, but this is an ongoing issue,” Layman said.

Justin Amrine of Starday Tavern asked incisive questions about the shelter, as did Ernesto Fonseca of Hacienda CDC, the nonprofit organization that operates the Mercado.

Many people who wished to attend the meeting were locked out after the room filled to legal occupancy capacity.

When Mayor Wheeler started to respond to a question and was shouted down, he said, “If you don’t want to hear me, I don’t want to take your time.”

Wheeler related how, in less than a year in office, he’s “put resources” toward more police patrols, park rangers, removing abandoned RVs, and picking up biohazards such as needles, and graffiti abatement.

“So, I understand the police and livability thing; my [city] budget [proposal] reflects my desire … to go back to a full community policing model, which means foot patrols,” Wheeler said.

Near the end of the hour allotted for the meeting, a neighbor of 16 years expressed her concerns saying that this is the wrong place for a “low-barrier” shelter.

Before wrapping up the meeting, Kafoury again said that the officials present had been there to listen, and to be responsive, to the concerns of those present.

On January 19, Multnomah County Policy and Research Director Christian Gaston for Chair Deborah Kafoury told East Portland News: “Multnomah County Board of Commissioners, at their regular meeting on January 18, postponed the vote to approve the lease for proposed shelter on Foster Road to January 25, for more public comment.”

© 2018 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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