Will Multnomah Village warming shelter stay temporary?

Warming shelter in Sears Building set to close May 31

The Jerome F. Sears Building on Southwest Multnomah in Portland, Nov. 9, 2015 (KOIN)
The Jerome F. Sears Building on Southwest Multnomah in Portland, Nov. 9, 2015 (KOIN)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — When a warming shelter opened in the Sears Building in Multnomah Village last Thanksgiving, neighbors didn’t seem bothered by it.

City leaders promised the shelter in the old Sears National Guard Armory would operate for just 6 months, and the city said it would close the shelter May 31.

But now some neighbors told KOIN 6 News they’re concerned the city and county may try to extend that deadline.

Currently, the shelter is open from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. for women and their partners. Guests are bussed there from downtown Portland at night, then taken back in the morning.

Nearby residents said they expect the city to keep its promise to close the shelter when they said they would. Some said there are constant domestic disputes and police activity. They said they don’t feel safe.

“This is supposed to end at the end of May,” Lisa Carney-Fenton said. “My neighbors and myself have been patiently waiting for all the disruptions to stop. My hope is it stops in May but I’m concerned they’re going to try and push something through again.”

Both Mayor Charlie Hales and Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury met with neighbors at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Multnomah Arts Center. They discussed the current needs of the homeless and possible next steps for this shelter and others that are planned.

Peering inside the warming shelter at the Sear Building in Multnomah Village in Portland, Nov. 28, 2015 (KOIN)
Peering inside the warming shelter at the Sear Building in Multnomah Village in Portland, Nov. 28, 2015 (KOIN)

Thursday afternoon, the county provided a timeline for planned shelter openings  — though no sites have yet been determined:

Temporary shelters are planned to open in inner Northeast Portland in July for 100 women and couples and in downtown Portland in August for 50 women.

Permanent replacements for the Sears Building include a spot in East Portland/Gresham to open this summer for 90 women, with a focus on domestic violence. In Southeast Portland, the McLoughlin Women and Couples Shelter is set to open in early fall with 100 beds.

Additionally, a few churches are planning to open to a smaller number of homeless people.

Hales told KOIN 6 News he’s facing a moral dilemma. He promised people the shelter would cease operations on May 31, but as other shelters aren’t ready yet, he’s balancing the concerns of the neighborhood with the 165 people who don’t have a home.

The county is seeking another 3 months for the Sears shelter.

“When this shelter came online, there was an FAQ posted and written up, one of those questions, in verbatim, reads ‘is the city guaranteeing that the shelter will be closed at the end of six months? The answer was yes.” Hales said. “Yes, that’s right and the answer was and is yes and before I change that and take the hits that I would take for going back on a commitment, I wanted to hear from folks here.’

Lisa Carney-Fenton lives near a warming shelter at the Sears Building in Multnomah Village, May 19, 2016 (KOIN)
Lisa Carney-Fenton lives near a warming shelter at the Sears Building in Multnomah Village, May 19, 2016 (KOIN)

Neighbors’ opinions are split.

“We have sacrificed and done what you asked us to do and we are saying now another 3 months through the summer is too much,” Carney-Fenton said.

“I think we need to ask the question, what is the greater good?,” Rick Nitti said. “And I think the greater good is keeping this shelter open three more months.”

The city owns the building, which was deeded to Portland as an earthquake shelter by the federal government, so Hales has to make a choice.

Hales didn’t comment on his leanings directly after hearing from the neighbors, but said he is considering what he heard and will make a decision next week.

“If an extension is granted, what does that say to Portlanders about the city holding its promises?” Hales said. “That’s one of the reasons why I haven’t made the decision to even try to extend it yet because the credibility of city government, my own integrity, are important to me.”

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