PORTLAND, Ore. (PORTLAND TRIBUNE) — This Wednesday, the City Council will consider putting Terminal 1 up for sale for the second time. The hearing is a victory for Commissioner Nick Fish, who is charge of the Bureau of Environmental Service, which owns the 18-acre piece of industrial property in Northwest Portland.
The original sale had been put on hold when the council voted 3-to-2 to lease the site to the Portland Housing Bureau for a temporary homeless shelter and potential permanent homeless multiservice center.
But Fish did not stop the shelter or center from being opened. Commissioner Dan Saltzman, who is in charge of the Portland Housing Bureau, pulled the plug on the project last week.
Fish had approved the lease between the two bureaus that would have let the two projects — originally proposed by developer Homer Williams — go forward. In an unexpected move, Saltzman refused to authorize the sub-lease to Williams’ project operating group, called the Oregon Harbor of Hope.
Saltzman made the decision last Tuesday, Oct. 25, after Williams presented him with a detailed proposal for opening the temporary shelter by the end of the year. It said the shelter would be operated by his organization and managed by Ibrahim Mubarak, a well-known homeless advocate and founder of the Dignity Village and Right 2 DreamToo homeless camps.
The proposal called for the shelter initially to be opened in a quarter of a warehouse at the site to accommodate 100 people and then expanded over the next 12 to 18 months to house up to 400 people. And it included an operating budget that started at around $1 million a year and increased to about $2.4 million a year when the shelter was complete.
Williams said he already had raised the $300,000 needed for start-up costs and was well on his way to raising all operating costs except for the lease payments, which the council had authorized the housing bureau to pay.
The council authorized the lease on on Aug. 10. Mayor Charlie Hales and Commissioner Steve Novick joined Saltzman to vote “yes.” Fish and Commissioner Amanda Fritz voted “no.” The vote stopped the surplus sale process for the property that produced seven bids ranging from $6 million to $10 million.
But the housing bureau ultimately objected to Williams’ management plan for the first phase of the project. In a memo delivered to Saltzman shortly before he made his decision, director Kurt Creager complained that Williams’ organization has no experience operating such a shelter.
“The proposed leadership have insufficient demonstrated capacity to oversee and manage day-to-day operations of an emergency shelter, including administrative functions, management and scheduling of shelter volunteer and staff, establishing and implementing low-barrier eligibility guidelines, policies and operations supporting low-barrier shelter in compliance with federal, state and local requirements and legal obligations,” the memo reads, in part.
In fact, Williams naively had agreed to open a “low-barrier” shelter in the warehouse. That is the hardest kind of shelter to operate because it means everyone except children must be admitted.
The plan Williams submitted to Saltzman reveals that those working there must be prepared to handle potentially volatile clients. Among other things, Williams said the staff and volunteers would be trained or have experience in verbal/trauma de-escalation, assertive engagement, mental health basics, crisis intervention, health record privacy policies, cultural responsiveness and principles of nondiscrimination.
Although Central City Concern and the Union Gospel Mission offered to provide services, no experienced low-barrier shelter operator in the area stepped forward to operate it.
Saltzman gave Williams his decision after an Oct. 25 meeting that included both men, Harbor of Hope director Don Mazziotti, incoming mayor Ted Wheeler’s chief of staff Maurice Henderson and others.
Williams said he was “surprised and disappointed” by Saltzman’s decision, but is prepared to continue working with the public, nonprofit and business communities on the issue.
“Portland is in the midst of a homelessness crisis that will only become more significant in the coming weeks and months due to an explosion in population and the lack of affordable housing. Homelessness is a heartbreaking crisis in every respect,” Williams said.
Following Saltzman’s decision, Fish submitted the resolution to start the bidding process on Terminal 1 again. He believes several potential buyers dropped out after the council signaled its support for the lease, lowering the potential sales price that can be used to reduce future environmental services bureau rate increases.
The Portland Tribune is a KOIN media partner.