The city does not own the Oxford Street Shelter; it leases the land and building at a cost of $150,00 per year. This is problematic because not only does the shelter need significant maintenance, it also has insufficient space which is awkwardly configured. That's why people seeking emergency shelter in Portland have to sleep on mats on the floor, inches from their neighbors, and vacate the shelter every morning with all of their belongings in tow.
That's also why we can't offer hot meals, day programming, and other essential services on-site which would help to provide greater stability for people in need and enable them transition to permanent housing and healthier and more secure situations faster.
We must replace the Oxford Street Shelter with a new facility that can offer much improved sleeping arrangements, storage for personal belongings, a day room, on-site meals, health and mental health services, housing assistance, employment services, and the stability that people need to get back on their feet.
It has been suggested that instead of building one new facility to replace OSS, the city should pursue replacing it with several smaller shelters throughout the city, but that isn't feasible for multiple reasons.
First, there's the fact that the city can't afford to own (or lease) and operate multiple facilities. The increased cost in staffing, security, utilities, equipment, and rent/mortgage would be prohibitive. This analysis of the operating expenses for multiple small facilities was studied by a shelter task force in 2014-2015 and deemed to be beyond the city's fiscal capacity.
In September 2015, it was estimated that operating five (5) smaller shelters would cost an additional $5 million annually. Meanwhile, an initial analysis of the operating costs of a single new facility to replace OSS indicates that the city could save a half-million dollars annually.
The other issue, beyond fiscal constraints, is timing. It would take 15-20 years for a single entity such as the city of Portland to design, plan, site, fund, and build five or six (40) forty-bed shelters. And during that time, the city would need to continue to lease the substandard, inadequate, inhumane shelter facility at Oxford Street, which would also require extensive maintenance over that period.
It is a far superior (and more realistic) plan to replace the Oxford Street Shelter with one facility that will provide essential services for people in need in a safer, more dignified environment.
What's more, a new facility can be designed with "flex space," so that should the demand for beds increase or decrease, movable partitions can allow the space to be reconfigured easily so that the utility of the space—for beds, for community meetings or events, for educational activities, or for other purposes—can be maximized.
The other shelter-related issue we're working on is a zoning change that would allow smaller shelters to be located in zones throughout the city. This would give non-city entities who might be interested in building and operating smaller shelters—and who may have the financial capacity to do so—more flexibility as to where these facilities could be established without having to request a zone change or a contract zone.
These smaller shelters would still be listed as conditional uses in all zones, which means they would have to meet many requirements and go through a rigorous site-plan review process before they could be constructed.
The HHS Committee had an initial discussion of this topic at our July 11th meeting, and the committee offered feedback and guidance to city staff. You can see the materials we reviewed in the packet for our July 11th meeting. The minutes from that meeting are available in the committee's agenda center as well.
We anticipate staff will have research and recommendations for the committee to consider sometime this fall.
Alternately, you can head over to the city’s Notify Me page and sign up to receive notifications when the HHS Committee agendas come out each month. Scroll down to the “Agenda Center” heading and click the envelope icon to sign up.