The Hansen Shelter will be closed by mid-June, missing the 18-month deadline the operator, Transition Projects (TPI), and the Joint Office of Homeless Services set for themselves by just a few months. “Multnomah County has always been clear that the former sheriff’s office site wasn’t suitable for long-term use as a shelter. As planned, the Joint Office of Homeless Services is working with Transition Projects to end operations at Hansen in June,” Denis Theriault, communications coordinator of the city-county Joint Office of Homeless Services wrote to The Mid-county Memo. Hansen provides shelter to 200 people.
There are also plans to close TPI’s Columbia Shelter, which shelters 100 people in the old Schleifer Building on Grand Avenue, and 5th Avenue Shelter, which shelters 75 men downtown. New, more permanent shelters are being planned to replace them, Theriault said, and there is also “$200,000 in rent assistance that the Joint Office [of Homeless Services] is investing to help boost housing placements through this transition.”
The changes brewing in the shelter system were first made known by Jim Redden of the Portland Tribune, who obtained a copy of a memo written by TPI Senior Director of Programs Stacy Borke. The memo was intended for limited internal distribution and many TPI employees found out about the plans through the media. The memo was written to comply with job notice timelines stipulated in union contracts, Theriault explained.
This is good news all around. Judy Pierce, or “JP” as everyone knows her, a 24-year employee of Cleary’s, the bar and grill in Menlo Park Plaza across Glisan Street from the shelter, said she was “tickled pink, ecstatic … It’s the best thing that’s happened to us in two years.”
Don Hilliard, who lives around the block from Menlo Park Plaza, used the same word—“ecstatic”—to describe his feelings about the closure of the shelter. Because of his proximity to the shopping center, Hilliard is aware of the problems there. Those problems include litter and other forms of waste being left around the shopping center, criminal activity and threatening behavior.
Hilliard praised the bottle return facility and the owner of Menlo Park Plaza for the improvements in their security services. He was also concerned for those losing their shelter. He saw Hansen as “warehousing” the homeless, who were faceless and anonymous to the county. That resulted in many homeless people not receiving services they needed and did not account for “chronic and scary” people who were sheltering at Hansen, Hilliard reasoned.
The “scary” people will still be drawn to the area by the bottle return and social services in the immediate area, he added. “It’s hard not to be negative when there’s probably someone peeing on my fence at this very moment,” Hillard said.
Compassion Mixed with Discontent
Local community member Davita Eichner has been a supporter of the shelter from the beginning. “The issue requires more compassion than I usually hear,” she wrote in an e-mail. “Growing up in this community, I felt included and supported, and my hope is that this continues to be the case for everyone in it, regardless of the challenges they might face.”
Like many of her neighbors, Eichner feels that their area has been negatively affected by Portland’s social problems. “I think the lack of affordable housing in Portland is impacting east Portland and vulnerable communities disproportionately,” she wrote. “My hope is that instead of directing anger at homeless people and shelters, community members can convert their indignation into action that demands more resources and services for everyone in east Portland.”
Most of Hansen Shelter’s guests are unlikely to remain in the neighborhood after the shelter closes. “We’re transitioning our entire shelter system into something that’s more durable and built for the long-term, as evidenced by the work on the Foster Shelter (ahomeforeveryone.net/foster) and the discussions with Old Town around the proposed Hoyt shelter. Foster may be up as soon as this fall,” Theriault wrote.
According to its website, the future Foster Shelter, an empty supermarket on Southeast Foster Road and 61st Avenue, will be leased for 10 years with options for renewals and will have 100 to 120 beds. Meanwhile, 375 beds are being lost in the TPI shelter closings, and that comes on the heels of 110 beds lost with the closing of the Human Solutions Family Shelter on Southeast Stark Street and 161st Avenue after its roof was damaged in February.
Nonetheless, Theriault bridled at the suggestion that the city and county were unprepared for the consequences of their own actions. “As we continue transitioning to a higher-quality, services-rich shelter system that’s built for the long-term, we are working to find another location to serve neighbors staying at Hansen,” he wrote.
Former Hansen guest Billy Wilmath reacted skeptically to the changes. “Follow the money,” he said, repeating advice he has given before regarding the homeless services bureaucracy. “I don’t see it getting much better out here.”
Wilmath himself is an example of a successful transition away from homelessness. He likes his apartment in Southwest Portland and enjoys spending time with his granddaughter there.
“I fought my butt off every day to find a place to live. I went to the library. I made phone calls to people who could help me,” Wilmath said. Not everyone can or wants to do that, he said, adding that he received few support services while he was homeless.
Wilmath, who uses an electric wheelchair, is now working with TriMet to educate drivers on the needs of the handicapped. It is a campaign that he initiated, and he is pleased with the results. “It’s kind of neat being listened to,” he said.
Theriault said it was too early to say what would become of the rundown Hansen Building. When asked what he would like to see replace Hansen, Don Hilliard had an immediate answer. “Something commercial. The county can sell the land. Let them put in retail, something to draw in people with money to the neighborhood.”