PORTLAND, Ore. (Portland Tribune) — Republican state Rep. Knute Buehler promised on Thursday to open the unused Wapato Jail for the homeless if elected governor, and challenged Gov. Kate Brown, his Democratic opponent, to make the same commitment.
Speaking at a morning press conference outside the North Portland facility, Buehler said if win the Nov. 6 election, he will meet with owner Jordan Schnitzer two days later to move the plan forward as soon as possible. Buehler said Wapato could very quickly house up to 1,000 homeless people, where they could also receive services to help them permanently move off the streets.
Brown’s campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
“Homelessness has become a public health crisis, humanitarian crisis, and increasingly a public safety crisis in Portland. For too long, Kate Brown has deflected blame and refused to take action. This facility is a concrete example of something that could be done to get people off the street and into a safe place where we can get them the care they need,” said Buehler, who toured Wapato before speaking.
Buehler estimated it would cost $1.5 million to open Wapato. He said he would include $10 million in his first proposed budget to create 4,000 new emergency shelter beds across the state.
“I will fast track the opening of the facility,” said Buehler.
After declining for many years to open Wapato for the homeless, the Multnomah County Commission sold the facility to developer Marty Kehoe in February for $5 million. He immediately sold it to Schnitzer, another developer and well-respected philanthropist, for the same price. Schnitzer than announced he was willing to see Wapato used for the homeless and invited nonprofit organizations to submit proposals.
When no viable proposals were received, Schnitzer announced he would seek a permit to demolish Wapato on Oct. 1. That prompted both Buehler and Mayor Ted Wheeler to call and ask him to delay the demolition. Wheeler said last Friday that he wants to know if it can be used as a drug and alcohol treatment center. Buehler has already decided that it can, and his campaign referred to it as the Wapato Treatment Facility in a Thursday press release.