PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — One Portland-area homeless shelter is succeeding despite its claims of not getting support from local government.
Helping Hands, the organization behind Bybee Lakes Hope Center, recently expanded capacity from 126 people to 318. They are running the center entirely on private donations but would like to qualify for local government grants.
“We don’t fit into the category of the way money’s being released in most cases or being able to be apply for because most of the homeless dollars go towards low barrier shelters,” said Alan Evans, Helping Hands Reentry Outreach Centers Founder & CEO.
The terms “Low barrier” and “Housing first” are the policies of Multnomah County and Portland homeless services, with the goal of getting people off the streets and into emergency housing quickly. But the terms also mean people can still use drugs or refuse mental health treatment while in shelters. The theory calls for giving people a safe place to live with the intention of getting them stabilized and more amenable to programs to turn their lives around. Helping Hands has more requirements for the Bybee Lakes shelter, like drug testing.
“We haven’t received any support because we find ourselves outside of the mission of housing first,” Evans said.
It’s the same housing first/low barrier policy that convinced Helping Hands to pull out of negotiations to manage a Safe Rest Village for the city near Multnomah Village. Evans was concerned they would not have enough control over who lives in the villages and be able to keep neighbors safe.
The Bybee Lakes Hope Center is in what used to be the never-used Wapato Jail. About four years ago, people and agencies working with the homeless urged commissioners to convert Wapato into a shelter. Multnomah County leaders refused and, led by Chair Deborah Kafoury, voted to sell the 500-bed facility to private developer, Jordan Schnitzer.
“It’s too expensive, it’s too far from services. There’s no transportation and the land-use policies don’t allow it,” Kafoury said in 2018.
Schnitzer brought in Helping Hands to do the conversion and daily operations.
With a $2 million state grant and millions in private donations, the extensive remodel was done to initially house more than 100 people.
Over the weekend, Kafoury wrote a letter to the editor, saying Helping Hands Bybee Lakes has “always had access to the same process for requesting help as other service providers” and they recently went through a qualification process and were approved.
Bybee Lakes says they haven’t seen a grant yet that they believe they qualify for.
KOIN 6 News reached out to the Joint Office of Homeless Services for comment.
“For our funding, that was not the right location for it,” said Denis Theriault, a spokesperson with JOHS. “We were adding shelters instead in other parts of the community. It wasn’t that we weren’t adding shelter, not doing ‘nothing’. We were adding them in other places. And those shelters are still open, and they’re doing a good job now. We’re not sad that someone else found a way to add more capacity to the community. It just wasn’t going to work for our funding for our programming, but it doesn’t mean that it’s a bad thing for someone else to make something work up there.”
“It feels like there’s obstacles in the way for us to say, ‘Hey, listen, we have 318 beds open here. We’re half full right now. We’ve got all these beds open in the community. How can we support you? And how can you support us?'” Evans said.