PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — There has been much discussion about using Wapato Jail as a homeless shelter, and on Thursday Multnomah County commissioners learned the endeavor would cost nearly $1 million.
That amount would pay for the basics to get the North Portland jail ready to open its doors. But it doesn’t include rehab costs, utilities and other necessary services to keep the shelter running.
People both for and against the project testified at a hearing Thursday.
“Hansen is closing and you’re going to lose 200 more beds,” Ken Pierce, who supports the plan to turn Wapato Jail into a shelter, said. “It’s a viable place to pick up a huge amount of space to house people who are sleeping on the streets.”
The jail was constructed in 2004 as a 525-bed minimum security jail and secure alcohol and drug treatment facility. It cost $58 million to construct, but it’s never been used. Occasionally, Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office uses it for search and rescue training. It has even been used as a set for movies and TV shows.
Those who are in favor of repurposing the jail say it’s the best, biggest and fastest way to get a roof over the heads of hundreds of homeless people in the city.
But the county’s facilities manager says he’s not sure it’s the best option.
“Are there better options? Yes, absolutely,” Henry Alaman said. “Our analysis has shown we’ve made better options in choosing Gresham women’s shelter, McLaughlin and choosing even Hanson… and those facilities are operating.”
Some of the biggest challenges with the plan involve overcoming zoning problems. Wapato Jail sits on land that’s zoned specifically for industrial use.
Then there’s the unknown cost of rehabs, updating infrastructure and finding transportation for residents who would need to get downtown to reach city services.
If the county goes forward with the plan, it could take months or years to open.