Dear Old Town Community:

On, Wednesday January 3 2018, your Old Town Community Association board (Board) is planning for an updated and different conversation than we have had to date regarding the Joint Offices of Housing’s proposed low barrier homeless shelter at 320 NW Hoyt.

History:

July 2017: The board first learned of the shelter proposal from the City (Mayor’s office), County (Chair’s office) and Joint Office on Homeless Services (JOHS) (together, this group is referred to going forward as the Jurisdictions). The Board’s response was to suggest both informing the Old Town Community and to take a comprehensive approach to address the proposal.

August 2017: Board Shelter Working Group Subcommittee is created and begins meeting to prepare for our September 6th meeting.

September 6, 2017: Two community meetings were held to hear directly from the Jurisdictions and Portland Police. The meeting format was to take a straw poll before the meeting of where constituents were on the spectrum of supporting the shelter on a dot matrix.  The Board ran the meeting, starting with a brief history of Old Town’s relationship with social services and the City regarding homelessness issues and services, and the commitments made by previous administrations regarding No Net Gain of shelters and services – due to the long disproportionate concentration in the area. This No Net Gain commitment has been documented through adopted land use plans and zoning.

Following this brief history, a panel consisting of Marc Jolin (Joint Offices of Homelessness Services), Christian Gaston (Multnomah County), Berk Nelson (Mayor Wheeler’s Office), and Captain Kelly Sheffer gave a presentation summarizing the need throughout the City, the proposed 320 NW Hoyt shelter, and offered optimism for the future livability and safety should the shelter open. At the end of the presentation, audience members asked clarifying questions, which panelists answered. And at the end, audience members were given two minutes each to share their comments or concerns, which were not responded to by the panelists. The meeting concluded with a second dot matrix poll of where constituents stood on the issue. The nature of the discussion and straw voting before and after the meetings indicated a strong opposition to new shelter proposal.

September 13, 2017: Portland Mercury writes an article with a thoroughly researched timeline of the history and commitments made by previous administrations to the Old Town neighborhood. See article by clicking here.

September 20, 2017:  The Board wrote a letter to the Jurisdictions opposing the shelter. Specifically, that our homeless population are some of our most vulnerable, and that Old Town is statistically the most dangerous neighborhood in the City (according to PortlandMaps), and that it is irresponsible to put our most vulnerable at risk.

That letter was then backed by additional letters of opposition from property owners, educational institutions, the Oregon Nikkei Endowment, and over forty Chinese individuals/organizations.

October – December 2017:  The Board and others in the community have spent a great deal of time during these fall months to not only remain at the table with our elected officials regarding this issue but also to keep the community informed through the weekly newsletter, community meetings and open Board meetings. The work done in these months has included:

    • Shelter Working Group Subcommittee, comprised of most of the Board, preparing for and attending seven separate meetings with the Mayor, County Chair, Joint Office Director and other city commissioners. Updates have been provided during the monthly Old Town Community meetings and also discussed during each open Board meeting.
    • At our community meetings, the Board encouraged all community members to speak up directly to the City, County and JOHS. We have provided contact information for all pertinent elected officials and staff, as well as suggested verbiage for consistency and prepaid postcards for ease of submission.
    • Organized three educational Monday evenings over three months with guests including Portland Police Bureau De-Escalation Officers, Portland Patrol/Clean & Safe and four shelters including Blanchet, TPI Day Center, Portland Rescue Mission and Salvation Army.
    • Facilitated the Office of Neighborhood Involvement’s collaboration in starting a community foot patrol in partnership with the Pearl District and will be scheduling an Old Town walk on Tuesday afternoons, meeting at Society Cafe at 2pm starting January 9.  For more information contact Kat at katomica@gmail.com.
  • Neighbor Ruth Ann Barrett has tracked crime in the area and analyzed statistics you can find here: http://pdxdowntowner.blogspot.com.
  • Neighbor Candee Wilson has been performing research and has been out talking with residents and businesses about the legality of the shelter placement at 320 NW Hoyt. For more information, contact Candee at candeelynnwilson@gmail.com or 503-789-0332.
  • At OTCA Board’s request, the City’s fall budgeting “bump” added back 3rd year of District Manager match. Mayor’s office acknowledged that communication with the Old Town neighborhood has been weak and must change to include more consistent communication with us as well as attending OTCA community meetings.
  • Marc Jolin shared with the Board an Old Town Chinatown task force proposal that includes recommended programming for the new shelter as a specific charge in November.  The Board edited the proposal from Marc to include open inquiry making it clear that a process can only take place on the grounds that the proposed shelter is a question, not a foregone conclusion. The edited proposal was sent back to Marc on November 21. We received a reply from the Jurisdictions on December 12. The Jurisdictions’ letter rejected the board’s request to explore the logic of an additional and larger shelter a small neighborhood that already has the highest shelter concentration, instead of planning for an assumed shelter. They state that they are moving forward regardless of our opposition.  

The board has learned the following additional information from our communications with the Mayor’s office:

  • Fall budgeting (bump) allocated an additional $1.25M, and the Portland Housing Bureau added another $1.25M, to complete the City’s share of a $5M need to open the new shelter.  The County needs to match this money to proceed, and has yet to do so though we understand funds from the State are coming. Until the County is able to identify the match, no new shelter is moving forward.
  • In addition to 320 NW Hoyt, three other locations on the eastside are under consideration, they would not state where. We now understand one at SE Foster and 61st Ave. Many of these other shelters, however, are not alternatives to 320 NW Hoyt. They are replacement beds for other shelters expected to close such as the Hansen shelter at NE 122nd and Glisan.
  • The Mayor too is interested in more action on the 5-year Action Plan:
    • Prosper Portland is re-doubling efforts to redevelop the little fire station property ($2 million of River District URA has been allocated to address seismic retrofitting).
    • City transferring ownership of Block 25 (vacant property on same block as Blanchet House) from the City to Prosper Portland for future redevelopment, with disposition to be determined via a public process.
    • 4th and Burnside (formerly Right 2 Dream 2) will undergo public process to determine best disposition method.
    • Evaluation of Action Plan System Development Charge waiver program underway for potential extension.
    • The Board requested extension of 5-Year Action Plan until 2024.
  • “High Pedestrian Zone” map and program:
    • The program is years old and called the Sidewalk Management Program (see Street Roots article from 2011 here).
    • The map shared at the PBA-arranged meeting at City Hall (notes previously shared with the board) was PBA’s recommendation, not the plan.
    • The Mayor’s office looks forward to our recommendations for streets we’d prefer addressed in Old Town
    • The proposed streets near Union Gospel and St. Andre Bessette could be addressed through line management and the Mayor’s office would be willing to work on this.
    • This program has primarily been managed by PBOT, however PPB is now more actively involved as well.

Some Next Steps

  • Board is reviewing a list of prioritized actions under the Action Plan
  • Board is reviewing response regarding High Pedestrian Zones
  • Board is gathering input from the Old Town Community regarding the shelter siting proposal

Through all the meetings, we have worked to find better ways to communicate concerns and oppositions and to not lump together the people on our streets today, to make distinctions between those who have compounding challenges of homelessness, mental health disabilities and/or narcotic and alcohol addictions, and the illegal street activity of drug dealing and other criminal activity. These are very difficult discussions that bring up many frustrations on all sides. As has been the long tradition in this neighborhood, our community meetings provide a forum where everyone is welcomed and encouraged to speak, and neighbors are committed to forthright civil discourse.

After receiving the Jurisdictions’ response to our edited proposal, we find ourselves at a crossroad and are seeking additional community feedback.

The Jurisdictions’ letter rejected the board’s request to explore the logic of an additional and larger shelter in a small neighborhood that already has the highest shelter concentration in the city, instead of planning for an assumed shelter. They state that they are moving forward regardless of our opposition. The most recent letter also suggests, though does not ensure, that the Royal Palm will be permanently closed and that the SOS shelter would be subsumed into the new shelter. If both are indeed the case they will be opening a shelter that would have a net increase of 110 beds.

The board thinks it wise to participate in the JOHS Shelter Workgroup if the Jurisdictions are willing to include the community association while still acknowledging our opposition.

The board also continues to seek information and data to support a mass shelter and details about its operations, and the Jurisdictions have agreed through the word of the County Chair and the Mayor to address the many questions we have posed. The Board wants answers to these questions as well as a written record, so that negotiated commitments are enforceable throughout the tenure of these and future administrations.

  • There has been a commitment to immediately increase and maintain improved public safety. The Board has asked for specific information about the various Police Units and Teams, the County’s LEAD program and other efforts of the District Attorney and Portland Patrol. The board is neither clear nor convinced that services can be sufficiently provided. It may take extraordinary funding and efforts to make a difference, and the neighborhood will be looking to both the Portland Business Alliance and the City to ensure success.
  • We also demand that the solutions to our streets include a strong complement of mental health and other services so those that need help receive it and that law enforcement is focused on people who are committing crimes. We would like to more collaboration and partnership with the County (Commissioner Meieran is scheduled to come to the February 7 Old Town Community Meeting), Central City Concern who has stated available capacity, and other community based organizations so those in Old Town who need help are getting it.
  • There has also been a public private commitment to work together to maximize the efficiency and effectiveness of neighborhood livability and public safety. Discussions have been underway among businesses and institutions already paying for private security.

As mentioned above, the City is committed to accelerating economic development by redoubling its efforts to develop publicly owned property, prioritizing other commitments and programs, and extending the Old Town Chinatown Action Plan and its $50+ Million allocation for an additional five years. If a new mass shelter is going to be located in our neighborhood, it is critical that the City continue its support for Old Town’s District Manager and that it follows through on its many other commitments to support the people who already live, work, and operate businesses in Old Town.

As Portland’s homeless crisis continues, the rest of downtown and the City at large are beginning to understand from personal experience the challenges long faced by Old Town. The irony of their new calls to action and the City’s response is not lost on this Board.  We continue to be committed to No Net Gain while also facing the fact that the City and County have resolved to proceed with a new mass shelter in Old Town.  In light of that reality, we believe that we should be at the table with the Jurisdictions and participate in their Shelter Workgroup, but we do not want you – our constituents – to feel that we have abandoned our opposition or your interests. We want the community’s thoughts and input at our next meeting on January 3 at University of Oregon, 70 NW Couch, at 11:30 AM.

We also welcome input via email from Old Town Community members who are not able to attend the meeting on January 3.  Please send your input to chair@oldtownchinatown.org.

Attachments:

Old Town Chinatown Task Force Proposal correspondences with the Jurisdictions