City eyes Old Town Chinatown site for homeless shelter

The warehouse at 320 N.W. Hoyt St. would give roof to 200 people

The building at 320 N.W. Hoyt St. that the city and county are looking to as a potential new space for 200 homeless people. (Lyndsey Hewitt/Portland Tribune)

PORTLAND, Ore. (PORTLAND TRIBUNE) — The city and county Joint Office of Homeless Services is looking at leasing a three-story building and vacant adjoining property in Old Town Chinatown for a new shelter that would be the largest in the district.

The warehouse at 320 N.W. Hoyt St. would give roof to 200 people and operate as a permanent 24-hour shelter.

The same site was previously eyed by former Mayor Charlie Hales administration for the Right 2 Dream Too homeless encampment in 2014, but was deemed too expensive to upgrade and operate as a homeless shelter.

A look at the insides of 320 N.W. Hoyt St. show that the site would clearly need many upgrades before operating as a homeless shelter. (Lyndsey Hewitt/Portland Tribune)

According to Portland Maps, the site is owned by Alco Investment Corp., out of Seattle.

Denis Theriault, spokesman for the Joint Office of Homeless Services, said the building would still need work for this project. How much it would cost to upgrade the facility for a 200-person shelter wasn’t immediately available and officials weren’t ready to announce any projected opening date, pending negotiations.

“This building would need work, even if we would take it over, it’ll take time to make improvements and make it habitable and fit with services,” Theriault said.

But they’re looking for more space.

“The Joint Office in conjunction with the city and county are looking to add another 200 shelter beds through this acquisition,” said Michael Cox, Mayor Ted Wheeler’s spokesman. “While nothing is final and nothing has been decided yet, we know we need additional capacity.”

Theriault noted that the Hansen Shelter in East County isn’t a permanent site and that this could help absorb some of the beds lost if that closes. He wasn’t able to say when that shelter, located in the old Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office, might close, however.

“We still need significant capacity on an ongoing, permanent basis in East County, but this is a place we could replace some of those beds,” Theriault said. “We know we can’t stay in Hansen long term — it’s not in the shape it needs to be.”

Additionally, the temporary homeless shelter that moved to the Shleifer Furniture building is still planned to close this fall.

At odds with the neighborhood

Prior to eyeing the Northwest Hoyt location, officials battled with the Old Town Chinatown community in using the Tuck Lung building at 140 N.W. Fourth Ave. for 100 beds, but decided not to approve a plan for that site in February. Many business owners in that area have been at odds with social service agencies for decades, taking issue with panhandling, public urination and intoxication. There are seven homeless shelters and centers in the Old Town Chinatown area alone, which concerns stakeholders. An agreement called the No Net Gain agreement was established to mitigate adding more services there.

“We had over time made an agreement … that there’d be no additional social service or shelters added to this area because we are already bearing the largest concentration in the city,” said Helen Ying, chair of the Old Town Chinatown Association. “What they (the city and county) have shared with us, is that they will be working to mitigate and help improve the situation, so at this time the association is going to gather input and come to a resolution that would be beneficial for the neighborhood.” She said they’re not taking a stand at this time, but looking to hear from people in two upcoming forums.

The city and county still sees a need in that area despite many shelters already being concentrated there.

“We moved R2DToo. There’s a lot of development going on in Old Town Chinatown, but of course homelessness will continue to be an issue in the city,” Cox said. He pointed to a fire two weeks ago at 510 N.W. Third Ave in an old firehouse owned by the city, when homeless people were reportedly seen running out of the vacant building.

“So I think having folks inside a well-managed shelter is certainly preferable to that,” he said.

Theriault says that the city and county has added 1,300 shelter beds at this point, up from 658 two years ago.

This new potential site, Theriault said, would likely operate similar Willamette Center at 5120 Southeast Milwaukie. Open 24 hours a day, it’s open to women and couples age 18 and older, operating on a reservation basis.

The Old Town Chinatown Community Association will host two meetings on the opening of the new homeless shelter, both on Sept. 6:

• 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at University of Oregon, 70 N.W. Couch St.

• 6 to 7:30p.m. at Central City Concern Old Town Recovery Center, 33 N.W. Broadway.

The Portland Tribune is a KOIN media partner.