The Hansen Shelter is a month old and an established part of the neighborhood landscape. Reviews of it have been mixed. The shelter has overcome some minor start-up glitches. Neighbors have noted a greater presence of the homeless in the neighborhood.
David Austin, Multnomah County communications director, called Hansen “the Cadillac of shelters” when he led a press tour of the facility on July 29. It looked like an old office building with bedrolls on the floor. There were mid-century details, such as enormous clocks and loudspeakers in the hallways. The clocks told the wrong time, but several staff members mentioned how well the loudspeakers worked. Everything looked clean and orderly. The first floor smelled of disinfectant, but the second floor smelled considerably less wholesome. Showers were available on a sign-up basis, after being closed the first five days for lack of towels.
Rooms accommodate between three and ten people and are never locked. Guests have no access to them in the daytime, although the shelter itself remains open. Each guest had 35 square feet of space and, since the shelter has 24-hour staffing, guests can leave their possessions at the shelter. Hansen is the only shelter in Portland where that is possible at the moment. When the Sears Shelter offered storage and showers, 29 guests were able to find jobs, said Roma Peyser, development director of shelter operator Transition Projects Inc. (TPI).
The Sears Shelter operated in Multnomah Village. The Peace Shelter opened downtown to take the Sears Shelter’s place when it closed.
Almost all of the Hansen Shelter’s guests came from the Peace Shelter. Austin said some spaces at Hansen were saved for homeless people from the neighborhood. The hasty arrangements resulted in a certain amount of messiness. According to accounts by shelter guests, on Thursday, July 21, it was announced that none of the men in the Peace Shelter, which was closing the next day, would be accommodated at Hansen, which has a smaller capacity than Peace. The following morning, 20 men were chosen by the staff to go to Hansen. Shelter staff found it a painful experience deciding who made the cut, guests said.
The 67 men who did not go from the Peace Shelter to Hansen were offered space at the Portland Rescue Mission, on mats set out in the chapel. Andrew Hall, guest care manager at the Rescue Mission, confirmed this information. He said the mission had an advanced warning of “a day or so.” The extra space is usually used only in the winter, Hall said, but “when we found out there’s a need, we jumped into action … 100 spaces, 100 days early.” The men from the Peace Shelter had places reserved for them for a week, but after that access to them was switched to a lottery system. Everyone seeking shelter was being accommodated, Hall said on Aug. 9. According to Hansen guests, not all of the men from the Peace Shelter took advantage of the Rescue Mission’s hospitality, since conditions there are considered rather rougher than at Peace or Hansen.
Hansen guest Billy Wilmath said conditions at the Hansen Shelter were comparable with those at Peace. Some of the men who did not immediately get places at Hansen were called when spaces became free, he said. Wilmath noted some personality conflicts between staff members and guests, but he had no serious complaints the week after the shelter opened, or three weeks later. He is waiting for a case manager to be assigned to him.
Meanwhile, in Menlo Park Plaza, across Northeast Glisan Street from Hansen, business was up at the bottle return facility, which was having a negative impact on business at Cleary’s Restaurant. “Friday nights there is a $150 [turnover], when there used to be $300 or $400,” general manager Kathy Waddle said Aug. 10. One diner told her that they felt intimidated there now—a likely sign that others feel the same way. She also says there is a group of homeless people camping in the shopping center.
One of Cleary’s servers added, “It’s a lot dirtier here … I wish [the homeless] didn’t have to go in front of businesses [on their way to the bottle return].”
Don Hilliard has lived in a house with its backyard facing the back of the bottle return for seven years, first renting it, then buying and renovating it. There were problems before the shelter opened, he said, but they have become “much worse” since the shelter opened.
“I have to watch the back of my property like a hawk … The bottle return is almost a bigger problem than the shelter,” Hilliard said. “They need to do something about security.” The space between the bottle return and his yard has become a center for illicit activities, especially at night, he said.
Hilliard said he hears fights late at night and no longer walks his dog by the shopping center in the mornings for fear of what he will find.
The people causing trouble at night are obviously not Hansen guests, Hilliard acknowledged, but “they follow them and prey on them,” he said, echoing a point made by someone else at the public meeting about the shelter in July.
Hilliard is not unsympathetic to the plight of the homeless, noting the “appalling conditions” they live in. But, he added, “This was a really decent neighborhood before the homeless moved in.”
He said that he attempted to contact Deborah Kafoury’s office, but his call was not returned.
“The demand for space greatly outnumbers our capacity. Neighbors drop in regularly to donate food, clothing and hygiene products, and we have our first AA group happening on site this Friday [Aug. 26],” Stacy Borke, TPI director of housing services, wrote in an email on Aug. 23.
The Hazelwood Supports the Hansen Shelter Facebook page topped 60 members the same day. The page chronicles neighbors’ efforts to provide assistance that ranges from food and clothing to art lessons. Their first sandwich-making meeting was scheduled for Aug. 25.