- NOTE: You can watch the whole HHS & PS meeting here.
- Psst! Start at 27:40 if you want to skip our announcements, edits to and approval of previous minutes, technical difficulties accessing documents, a couple of exciting interruptions from an audience member, and of course a stunning 3+ minute opening shot of Councilor Duson's chair. From 27:40, it's a 2 hour and 20 minute ride, so you might want to grab some popcorn.
So...what happened? In a nutshell...
As we began to go over the Q&A about the proposed Barron Center site for the new Homeless Services Center (HSC), it became clear to me pretty early on that the folks sitting around the dais weren't feeling comfortable with where we were in our process.
Councilor Mavodones expressed concern about how things would move forward with regard to the Planning Board and Council process. Other questions that were being asked—as well as the body language in the room—seemed to indicate it might be wise to pause our agenda and figure out the best way to proceed. So that's what we did.
We veered from the evening's plans and asked those present to explain where they were and what they felt they needed to get to a place where they could make a decision on a site for a new HSC. Those questions resulted in a very positive, and (I believe) very necessary, 2 and 1/2 hour discussion. As I mentioned before, you can watch that whole meeting here, but if you want to skip to the takeaways, here they are.
- Starting immediately, the City Manager and staff will re-examine land options in the city, including the newly updated map of city-owned parcels in order to determine if there are additional sites worthy of consideration.
NOTE: In the first iteration of potential sites, only two actual sites were identified: The Barron Center Campus and County Way. While there were other areas explored, no sites were identified in those areas either because: a) the city owned no available parcels in the area; b) we were unable to locate property owners in the area interested in selling or negotiating parcels; or c) a combination of these two factors and, in some cases, remediation or wetland issues.
- As city staff re-examines land, they will contemplate various sites' suitability for both a single shelter and/or two or more smaller facilities run by the city. Locations for both models (single vs. multiple sites) will be brought forward, and as part of this examination, operating costs for all models will also be calculated and presented. The pros and cons of various models will be part of the information city staff prepares as well.
- City staff will return to the committee in October, likely at the second HHS & PS meeting (10/23), with a new list of potential sites and options. The committee will then work to narrow the scope of this list, choosing the best option (or options) for presentation to the Council. Ideally, as the committee works through this information, it will create a hierarchy—1st choice, 2nd choice, 3rd choice—so that if its first recommendation to the Council doesn't secure enough votes, there will be a Plan B ready and waiting.
- Should the top recommendation from the committee require rezoning, and thus Planning Board action, the committee will first secure reasonable guidance from the Council to ensure the recommendation has enough interest among Council members to warrant referring it to the Planning Board. In doing so, the committee will make certain that it is sending a viable option to the Planning Board for its consideration and not asking that body to do a lot of work on a proposal that has no chance of securing Council approval.
Will it slow us down? In the grand scheme of things, I don't think so. In fact, it could very well expedite our process. At the end of this second examination of potential sites, we will know, very clearly, all of the options we have for facility placement. And at that point: We. Will. Act.
- Would it be best to have other communities, the county, and/or the state offering assistance with costs? Yes.
- Would it be best to implement a regional approach to ending homelessness? Yes.
- Don't we also need to find better ways for Portland, the surrounding region, and the state and federal governments to come together to address substance use disorder, mental health, and poverty? Absolutely.
But we can't wait for these ideals to become reality. Why?
Because the reality on the ground is that we have an average of 200+ individuals seeking shelter at the Oxford Street Shelter each night, and our current facility is not adequate to address their needs and the needs of the surrounding community with dignity, respect, and the most effective practices. Without an appropriate facility to assess, triage, and assist these individuals, many will wind up on the street. That, of course, will lead to greater hardship and instability for them as well for the surrounding community.
We can continue to work toward these goals—funding assistance, regional cooperation, and help addressing the root causes of homelessness—and we absolutely will. We can also examine our policies here in Portland to see if they need adjustment. But in the meantime, we can't put our new facilities on hold.
So, this examination of what services Portland should provide and how they will be paid for can, and will, occur in tandem with site selection and the planning, design, and building of a new facility (or facilities). And we will remain mindful of the urgency of this situation as we move forward with it all.