Board approves purchase of new shelter site in southeast Portland for women and couples

April 14, 2016

A Home for Everyone Initiative Director Marc Jolin

Women and couples experiencing homelessness soon will have a new site at which to seek shelter and services.

The Multnomah County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously Thursday to purchase a 14,000 square foot building at 5120 S.E. Milwaukie Avenue. The property will be converted into a shelter for single women and women with partners.

The building is currently owned by the Society of St. Vincent DePaul of Oregon, which provides community services to struggling individuals and families.

The Multnomah County Board of Commissioners agreed to spend $2.35 million in one-time only funds to purchase the site.

The women’s shelter will open in late summer and, in addition to housing, will offer a variety of wraparound services to people experiencing homelessness. Specific services have not yet been identified. The facility will have the capacity to provide shelter to about 100 women. The county plans to discuss possible programs with the neighborhood over the next few months.

The county sought to purchase the building at the recommendation of the A Home for Everyone Coordinating Board, which has called for the expansion of shelter and services to people experiencing homelessness, a number that includes more than 500 women who go unsheltered each night in Multnomah County.

“We have an enormous unmet need for services and shelter for people experiencing homelessness in our community,” said Marc Jolin, initiative director for A Home for Everyone. A temporary shelter in the old Jerome F. Sears Army Reserve Center on S.W. Multnomah Boulevard is scheduled to close in May, Jolin said, potentially pushing more women onto the street.

“This building would help us sustain some of that capacity and make it permanent,” Jolin said.

Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury

The board’s approval comes as rent prices are up 16 percent across the county and fewer than 3 percent of rental units are vacant. A two-bedroom apartment now costs between $884 and $1,220 per month, a prohibitively high cost for a full-time worker earning minimum wage of $1,603 before taxes each month or, say, a person with a disability who receives just $733 a month in Supplemental Security Income.

Meanwhile, more than 1,800 people sleep on Multnomah County streets each night.

Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury said the shelter purchase was a bold and atypical step for a government that typically concentrates its efforts on providing services to people in need.

“I want to really thank my colleagues, because they have seen and they understand the need in our community that is very real for very many, many people,” Kafoury said. “ And instead of saying ‘Oh, I’m sorry that’s not really our job,’ or ‘Somebody else can take care of it,’ my colleagues have stepped up and are stepping up today to say ‘It’s all of our job.’”