The Board of Commissioners on Thursday unanimously approved a purchase and sale agreement to begin formal negotiations to buy the four-story building. The agreement gives the County 30 days to conduct due diligence evaluations and an additional 30 days to close on the estimated $4.34 million sale.
The County’s Mental Health and Addiction Services Division has long sought an appropriate location for a resource center in the central city. Mental Health advocates, public safety officials, downtown businesses, hotels and other stakeholders have all expressed the need for a better response to the people they encounter daily who are experiencing homelessness and mental health issues.
“There’s a longstanding, critical gap in our system for centrally located, low-barrier mental health recovery services, peer respite services, and a resource center,” said Commissioner Sharon Meieran, who led a review of the County’s mental health system last year. “All of those needs are clear in our community, and they are urgent.”
She said the agreement to explore the Bushong building offers “real potential to respond in a meaningful way to some of those pressing needs in our community.”
Meieran also thanked Chair Deborah Kafoury for spearheading a site search after reviewing several reports and community feedback identifying the need for a center in the central city. At the Chair’s direction, the County began to assess the building’s potential suitability for a behavioral health resource center in late 2018. At the same time, the County asked real estate consultant CBRE to identify other potential sites in the downtown area.
Based on the pressing need for more resources, and initial evaluations of the Bushong Building’s location and structure, compared to what officials saw while touring those other sites, the County believes the site has the most potential as a multi-use facility.
“That’s where we landed with making this recommendation,” said Bob Leek, interim director of the Department of County Assets.
Filling a critical gap in mental health services
The property negotiations are an important step toward a resource center that could address critical gaps in the regional mental health system that consumers, advocates, businesses and law enforcement have identified in downtown Portland in multiple reports and studies.
If the deal is successful, Multnomah County Mental Health and Addiction Services staff will begin holding community conversations on specific programming for peer-supported services, and transitional housing for those in greatest need.
He envisions a place where people can access phones and computers, check their mail, and tend to basics like getting a meal and taking a shower. But he also cited the hoped-for facility’s “most important” offering — “support and assistance from those with lived experience with homelessness, mental health issues, substance abuse issues, and even criminal justice involvement.”
Janie Gullickson of the Mental Health and Addiction Association of Oregon said a centrally located, low-barrier facility with multiple resources has been missing and is sorely needed. She said the group supports the location and project so far.
“We know downtown is the very public face of homelessness, addiction, mental health crisis and other experiences that folks who have nowhere else to go are facing,” she said. “This gives a great place for those folks to be, and to provide for those folks. I look forward to what’s next for this.”
Building was recently used for winter shelter
The Breske Building was built on the corner of Oak and Park streets in 1908 and housed Pacific Monthly periodical and later Sunset Magazine. The lower floors housed the lithograph and printing machines of Bushong & Company.
When Bushong & Company relocated to North Portland in the 1950s, Modish Coat and Suit Company moved in to sell women’s fashion. Most recently, the building housed a nightclub.
The building was vacant when the real estate development firm, Project^, bought the property in 2016 with a plan to develop creative, open office space.
While construction permits were pending, the company offered the space to the Joint Office for Homeless Services as a winter shelter for older men, veterans or men with a disability in 2016.
Chair Kafoury’s office helped bring the purchase and sale agreement before the Board. She thanked the partners who’ve helped advance the proposal, including Commissioner Meieran’s office, the Department of County Assets, Mental Health and Addiction Services, and the Joint Office of Homeless Services.
“There’s nowhere in our community where the intersection of behavioral health and homelessness is more concentrated than downtown Portland,” she said. “As you heard, for years, Neal has been researching, advocating for, and looking for a place where people with behavioral health challenges can go and rest and access the services they need.”
The County’s next steps are to examine the building “inside and out” while working with mental health experts, mental health peers, other governments, members of the business community and others to plan what the facility can offer.
“We will bring that plan back to this board. If we decide this building isn’t for us, we will continue to search for an opportunity in downtown Portland,” Chair Kafoury said. “But we’re hopeful this will be the perfect location.
“Although we have a lot of work before us, I’m really excited about the potential.”