Multnomah County and the city of Portland have joined with a pair of Portland development firms to find a new home for downtown’s Columbia shelter -- building on a strong partnership with the business community that’s helped hundreds of vulnerable neighbors find safety off the streets.
Columbia’s new location -- in the historic Shleifer Furniture building at 509 S.E. Grand at Stark -- will begin welcoming guests Monday, April 17. It will continue providing overnight accommodations for up to 100 people, including men, women and some couples.
That collaboration means the community can maintain needed capacity in our shelter system. It also shows the continued power of partnership between the public and private sectors when it comes to addressing homelessness -- and directly easing suffering on the streets.
“Homelessness is a growing issue in our city and it’s important to remember that we all have a role to play in helping our neighbors in need,” said Eric Cress, principal at Urban Development + Partners.
“As building owners and developers, we have a unique opportunity to provide access to safe spaces and services for people in our community who would otherwise be sleeping on the street. This temporary shelter wouldn’t be happening without the vision and hard work of community leaders, elected officials, and city and county staff who are committed to addressing homelessness in a comprehensive and compassionate way.”
“Homelessness is a citywide challenge that requires citywide solutions,” said Jonathan Malsin, principal at Beam Development. “We’re proud to be part of one solution with a temporary site for shelter and services while we are completing our renovation plans for the historic Hotel Chamberlain.
“Folks from the city, the county, and community organizations are engaging in outstanding work to fill in the rest of the puzzle, pursuing innovative strategies to address homelessness in every corner of the city. We look forward to seeing more partnerships to provide shelter and services to those who need them and address the root causes that push people to the streets in the first place.”
Columbia’s original location, in the Washington Center Building at SW Fourth and Washington Street, opened only as a temporary shelter in January. It was set to close this week.
The Menashe family first opened the Washington Center Building as shelter space last year, as the Peace shelter. The space was reopened as the Columbia shelter in January, after the Menashe family worked with Greystar Real Estate Partners, which was under contract to purchase the property at the time.
The agreement to open Columbia came near the height of an unprecedented and deadly bout of severe winter weather. And it made an immediate difference for people freezing on our streets.
"It's been fantastic. It rescued me off the streets,” said C.M., one of the guests who stayed at Columbia. “If it wasn't for you guys, I'd be dope sick somewhere, sleeping in the street. You guys are giving me a lot of inspiration to start the ball rolling and get back into school.”
"Life saving and life changing. In one word, awesome,” said D.H., another guest. “Without Columbia, it'd be hell on earth. I'd probably be dead this winter."
Developer Tom Cody, who owns the Bushong & Co. building at 333 SW Park near O’Bryant Square, also came forward with a similar arrangement in the fall. That building is still hosting the Peace 2 men’s shelter.
The new location for the Columbia shelter adds another partner to the effort by the City/County Joint Office for Homeless Services and A Home For Everyone to increase shelter beds for homeless neighbors.
A Home for Everyone is the first community-wide initiative to respond to homelessness in Multnomah County. It brings together people who experience homelessness; elected officials from Portland, Gresham, and the county; and leaders from the faith, philanthropy, business, and nonprofit sectors to craft shared strategies.
“Addressing homelessness in our community requires the entire community’s participation. Government cannot do this alone,” said Mayor Ted Wheeler. “Thank you to our private sector partners for stepping up.”
Overall, A Home for Everyone and its partners have nearly doubled the number of publicly funded, year-round shelter beds in Multnomah County over the past year, adding roughly 600 beds.
Including space provided by privately funded organizations, our community now has more than 1,450 year-round beds available. Nearly 300 additional beds are available for short-term use.
“In true Portland spirit, when we asked the business community to help, they stepped up,” said Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury. “First it was the Menashe family, then it was Tom Cody and Project, and now it’s Brad Malsin and Beam. Who’s next?”
But shelter is also akin to seeking treatment for a chronic condition in the emergency room.
That’s why A Home for Everyone remains committed to preventing as many people as possible from becoming homeless in the first place, helping more than 5,200 last fiscal year.
The office also works to help those who do fall into homelessness regain housing as quickly as possible, and then keep it. More than 4,600 people were moved from homelessness into housing last year, more than ever.
Making sure people in crisis don’t need shelter, either because they can stay in their homes or can quickly return to permanent housing, also helps our current shelter capacity go further.
In all, partners in A Home for Everyone helped more than 25,600 people -- also more than ever.
Transition Projects will continue managing the Columbia Shelter, with operations funded through the Joint Office of Homeless Services. Organizers have worked closely with the Portland Business Alliance on this initiative.
“We’re thankful for another opportunity to partner with business leaders like Beam Development and Urban Development Partners to help ensure some of the county’s most vulnerable have a safe place to sleep off the streets,” said George Devendorf, executive director of Transition Projects.