March 26, 2020

Nick Pearson, general manager at the Jupiter Hotel, stands with Chair Deborah Kafoury, Joint Office director Marc Jolin and deputy health officer Dr. Paul Lewis to announce use of the hotel as space to spread existing shelter beds on March 26, 2020.
A senior manager at Portland’s iconic Jupiter Hotel was listening to the radio one morning last week when he heard Chair Deborah Kafoury ask the community to come forward with shelter space in hotels and motels.

She’d been trying to create physical distancing in shelters, to limit the spread of COVID-19, by shifting beds to new locations.  

David Mogg, the Jupiter’s director of business development, called the Chair’s office that day with an offer. 

Their 1962 hotel and its 81 rooms could be ready and available to help space out Multnomah County’s shelter system and protect medically vulnerable people living in congregate spaces.

“By 3 p.m.,” said Nick Pearson, the Jupiter’s general manager, “we were all sitting down, finalizing this partnership.”

And this week, the first guests started moving into their new rooms. Pearson and Chair Kafoury announced the new project at a news conference Thursday, March 26. 

Pearson said the hotel’s ownership team, led Kelsey Bunker and Tod Breslau, “cannot speak highly enough” about the public-private partnership that they have forged with Chair Kafoury and Marc Jolin, director of the Joint Office of Homeless Services

“We are honored to contribute to the health and safety of some of Portland’s most vulnerable communities,” he said.

Chair Deborah Kafoury announces a partnership with the Jupiter Hotel for use as a temporary space to spread existing shelter beds on March 26, 2020.
“Last week I issued an order that allows the County to commandeer hotels for this purpose,” Chair Kafoury said. “I haven’t had to use that authority because Kelsey and her team behind the Jupiter Hotel looked at what they could offer, and they stepped up.

“It becomes clearer by the day that it will take each and every one of us, doing what we can, to slow the spread of this virus. The health and safety of our vulnerable neighbors, and of our entire community, depends on it.”

Shelter strategy

For the next several weeks, working with the Joint Office, the Jupiter’s original renovated 1962 motor lodge will make all of its 81 rooms available. The rooms are reserved for people already accessing shelter services. 

Shelters have remained open in the face of COVID-19, but many providers have limited or paused their intakes to comply with physical distancing guidelines. Creating more space for physical distancing can help providers more quickly resume a normal level of intakes.

Working with Portland Parks and Recreation and Metro, Chair Kafoury directed the County to open shelters in the Charles Jordan Community Center and the Oregon Convention Center. The East Portland Community Center is slated to open soon as a women-only shelter. 

None of these spaces, including the rooms at Jupiter Hotel, will increase overall capacity. Instead, they will help create healthier and safer environments across the County’s shelter system. These additional spaces are serving people who are already in a shelter, through reservations, and will not be able to accommodate walk-ins or drop-offs.

Hiring push

To support the County’s work to stabilize shelters during this crisis, Chair Kafoury and County leaders are also asking for community help, putting out a call for temporary employees to work in a range of shelter and motel settings over the coming weeks. 

So far, County employees have helped launch and continue to work at these additional shelter spaces. Elected officials have also taken part, assembling cots and taking shifts serving meals. And staff from nonprofits have also played a lead role. 

Anyone interested in helping can learn more at the County’s shelter jobs page.

“To do this — and to do this right — we are going to need more people to step up,” Chair Kafoury said. “We need qualified medical staff and we need compassionate people with experience in social services to sign up for volunteer shifts, or temporary paid full-time work.

“This crisis can and will be weathered only if people ask themselves what they can do to help,” she continued. “For many, that means staying inside as much as possible. 

“But for others who are able, the answer might be signing up to be part of the essential work that will help everyone in our community maintain physical distancing.”

The outside of the Jupiter Hotel on March 26, 2020.

A room at the Jupiter Hotel on March 26, 2020.