PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – As mental illness and addiction are some of the elements keeping people on the streets, a new Behavioral Health Resource Center is opening soon in downtown Portland, with a focus on treating that sector of the homeless population.

The Behavioral Health Resource Center (BHRC) differs from a typical shelter because it is a space for people who are homeless with mental illness, who often get kicked out of or are unsuccessful at other shelters that don’t have the resources to treat them.

“It is an innovative program, the first of its kind that we are seeing in our community, to support individuals with behavioral health challenges and also who are experiencing houselessness,” said Christa Jones, Multnomah County senior manager for community health programs.

The programs will exclusively be run by people with lived experience of mental illness, addiction and homelessness.

Janie Gullickson, the executive director of the Mental Health & Addiction Association will help run the BHRC.

“Where my life dramatically changed was the moment I was given hope, and that’s when somebody came to me and shared their story,” she said. “They didn’t look like they came from where I was, but when they showed me their mugshot and told me their story, I remember in that moment not knowing if I could do what she had done, but thought maybe.”

Gullickson said her strong recovery and prior decades of experience battling an addiction to meth and life on the streets gives her the power to change the lives of people living that same struggle.

Those most in need of mental health help will be referred to the upper floors with 30-day and 90-day shelters. The overnight shelters will help stabilize people and find them a permanent place to live.

  • Downtown Portland homeless center to focus on mental health
  • Downtown Portland homeless center to focus on mental health

“It’s not punitive,” said BHRC director Tonya Jones. “We’re not gonna punish you for being a human being, for experiencing something that is out of your control.”

These women, who have come full circle, say they are ready to meet people where they are and lead them on a path to recovery.

“We don’t have judgment or add to the shame that I know I experienced as a chronically houseless person myself at one time in my life. We’re there for them, really getting to know what it is they’re looking for,” Gullickson said. “Then we see people take that next step, while it seems small in the big picture — it’s huge. We’re thrilled to build those relationships and see what happens as they develop.”

The first phase of the project, which is the Day Center, is expected to open in late November. Meanwhile, the 30 and 90-day shelters on the upper floors will open in the spring.

While this will help serve people with addiction and mental illness, the center will not be a sobering, detox or crisis center, but rather a resource and a bridge to get people there.

Multnomah County said the Board of County Commissioners approved the purchase of the Bushong Building on Southwest Park in 2019 for $4.34 million.