Latest Wapato plan: Mixed-use facility for ‘unsheltered’

Multnomah County

Facility would be called Bybee Lakes Hope Center

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — A plan to convert the always-vacant Wapato Jail into a mixed-use facility for housing and supportive services got a $1 million commitment from owner Jordan Schnitzer on Friday.

The proposal made in conjunction with Helping Hands is slated to be called Bybee Lakes Hope Center. The non-profit and Schnitzer announced the plan at a Friday morning press conference.

Bybee Lakes Hope Center would be a mixed-use facility. According to their statement, it would “co-locate referral-only mass housing and trauma-informed supportive services for the unsheltered in Multnomah County.”

Schnitzer kicked in $1 million but said another $2 million in private donations is necessary to make this plan a reality.

Others joining Schnitzer at the press conference were Alan Evans, the founder of Helping Hands Reentry Outreach, and State Sen. Betsy Johnson.

Helping Hands founder Alan Evans, December 13, 2019 (KOIN)

Evans began Helping Hands in 2004 in Seaside. They now operate 11 emergency homeless shelter and re-entry program facilities.

They dismiss the idea that people should not live in a facility that was intended as a jail but never used.

“It’s basically an empty building with 9 wings. It’s fully set up to accomodate groups of people. A shower every morning – what a gift for someone living on the street,” Johnson said. “I completely reject the idea that it is a dehumanizing place.”

“January is coming. It’s cold out,” Evans said. “Spend 4 days with me on the street. One blanket, traffic going by, and tell me in 2 days. If you don’t think this place is safe I’ll close up shop.”

As Betsy Johnson said, “Would you rather sleep in a bed with a pillow or in a tent in the woods?”

State Senator Betsy Johnson, December 13, 2019 (KOIN)

Wapato Jail was built in 2004 for $58 million and never housed a single inmate. Multnomah County sold the 525-bed facility to developer Marty Kehoe for $5 million. Schnitzer financed the purchase and took ownership.

On October 10, Schnitzer announced that after 18 months of trying to strike a deal to turn the unused Wapato Jail into a homeless shelter, it will be demolished.

Schnitzer has been told there’s no deal from county leader for public funding of homeless housing at Wapato. But he still holds out hope.

“What I don’t understand is when there’s a chance to rise to the occasion and reach out to Alan and say what can we do.”

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