By Don MacGillivray

In the mayor’s March state of the city message he announced the intent to develop a Navigation Center for the homeless street people of Portland. The City and the School District have been in discussions since January to find a suitable location for this new facility. The discussions have resulted in a proposal to use the  vacant 8,700 square foot utility building on the old Washington High School property that is on SE 13th Avenue just north of SE Morrison Street. The idea came from a recent tour of San Francisco’s year old homeless Navigation Center.

This site is located in the Buckman neighborhood that has for years tolerated their share of thirty years of the challenging homeless concerns with numerous social services in the Central Eastside. These include: the Don Clark Homeless Shelter near the Multnomah County Building, “Jean’s Place” a women’s shelter just across Burnside from Buckman, the City Team Ministries Homeless Shelter (previously the Peniel Mission) on Grand Avenue, the Ritzdorf Court transitional housing only two blocks away from the proposed Navigation Center site, as well as the well known St. Francis Dining Hall that is two blocks away.

At a recent meeting between the mayor and Buckman neighborhood residents and business owners the proposal was clarified. The neighbors were not so much concerned about the new facility, but instead they talked about the difficulties with the homeless who are living in the area now. These issues need to be taken care of before the Navigation Center can be built. The mayor agreed and promised to involve the community in the plans, to develop a good neighbor agreement, and limit the term of the facility to two years.

A shelter for 150 women that opened on Thanksgiving last year in Multnomah Village at the Jerome F. Sears Army Reserve was due to close on May 31st, but recent reports state that it will remain open. A similar shelter site is being purchased by Multnomah County from St. Vincent de Paul located on Milwaukee Avenue in Westmoreland. Another temporary shelter for 150 people that opened downtown at Southwest Fourth Avenue and Washington Street in January will be closed at the end of June. Jordan Menashe, a prominent real estate owner, will soon remodel it for commercial use.

A big piece of the solution is quality care for the mentally ill homeless. With an unprecedented relationship of Legacy Health, Oregon Health and Science University Kaiser Permanente, and Adventist Health “Unity Center for Behavioral Health” will open before the end of this year. Located in the Lloyd district it will provide services to those with mental health disorders that are experiencing psychiatric emergencies. This will take a great load off the police and the emergency rooms of Portland while giving their patients the care they require.

Recent statewide legislation has provided Oregon municipalities with mandatory inclusionary zoning that will allow Portland to have private development increase the supply of affordable housing. A panel of local housing experts will advise the City on its implementation.

The Portland Housing Bureau will be using $61.6 million in local and federal funds for affordable housing projects. This is a partnership between the City of Portland and the Network for Oregon Affordable Housing (NOAH) who will provide financing and technical assistance. This will allow Portland to act quickly to acquire new sites for affordable housing developments making it easier for nonprofit and for-profit borrowers to develop projects citywide.

Approximately $47 million in local and federal funds will build eight affordable housing projects. It is estimated that this will result in 585 new units of affordable housing and will preserve another 255 through renovation projects. These are part of the plan developed by “A Home for Everyone” to serve priority populations such as homeless families with children. These projects are: 72 Foster – REACH will develop 108 new affordable units in the Lents Town Center Area, N. Williams Center – Bridge Housing Corporation will develop 61 new affordable units for families along the Interstate Corridor, The Creators Collective – Meta Housing Corporation will develop 76 new affordable units for families, seniors, and Veterans near the Interstate Corridor, Block 45 – Home Forward will build 127 affordable mixed-income units in the Oregon Convention Center Urban Renewal Area, The Henry – Central City Concern will renovate 153 single-room occupancy units in the central city; Interstate – Central City Concern will develop 51 new affordable units in the Interstate Corridor, Stark I & II Central City Concern will develop 162 new low-barrier units housing in the Hazelwood neighborhood; Gladstone Square and Multnomah Manor – Home Forward will renovate 102 affordable units serving families in the Lents and Montavilla neighborhoods.

These are just a few of the current activities that the City of Portland is using to address the affordable housing crisis. Much of the work will not be completed for a year or more, but it is progress and it will help alleviate some of the homelessness.