A developer’s 4-part plan to solve Portland’s homeless crisis

Special Reports

Homer Williams wants local leaders to invest in his vision before Portland sees another wave of homelessness

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — One of the leading developers of Portland’s Pearl District says the city’s homeless situation is about to worsen if local leaders don’t jump on board with his vision.

Developer Homer Williams has spent the last several years of his retirement dedicating his mind and money to solving the homeless crisis in the Portland metro area.

Williams first launched the Oregon Harbor of Hope shelter to provide people essential services to stabilize their lives. He said nearly half of the people who use the shelter also go to work every day.

“We can’t expect people to live like animals,” said Williams. “Everybody deserves a safe place. It doesn’t have to be an apartment but they do deserve a good night’s sleep; they do deserve hygiene; they do deserve food and medical care. If they need it, we can provide that for everybody.”

Williams has a vision for creating managed communities to serve as a step between shelters and apartments where people can have their own space and utilize common services to get back on their feet. Williams worked with a local manufacturer to design pop-up tiny homes that can be constructed in just 15 minutes and are far cheaper than the tiny homes built in other villages.

Williams is talking with the city about using a publicly-owned piece of property to open the first managed community by the end of June. Eventually, Williams wants to open villages across the city to accommodate as many as 20,000 people.

Williams is also pushing for governments and charities to continue to buy up motels to use as transitional housing. But motel rooms often don’t include kitchens so Williams has been working with the same local manufacturer to build pre-fabricated kitchens that can be installed within an hour.

Working quickly and on a large scale is key to Williams’ plan because the government has struggled to create more affordable housing.

“We cannot build our way out of this,” said Williams. “We are not efficient at building affordable housing. Number one, it takes way too long and it takes way too much money and we don’t have the money to effectively build our way out of this if we don’t have it. So we are interested only in things that can scale and by that I mean deal with the magnitude of the problem in big ways.”

Williams is warning of another wave of homelessness as people face potential foreclosures, particularly those over 50 who are unemployed and have a tougher time finding jobs. But Williams has a plan for addressing that, too: Home Share Oregon.

Home Share Oregon is a computer program that matches people who have extra bedrooms in their homes with people who can only afford a small amount for rent. The matching service includes a long list of compatibility questions, background checks and legal services. The program is free to use thanks to the support of donations and grants.

“Many folks would like to age in place and oftentimes all that’s required to make that happen for these individuals is to have a person renting a room from their house that can help take out the trash or mow the yard,” said Tess Fields, who is in charge of Home Share Oregon.

Fields said there are 1.5 million homes in Oregon with a spare bedroom. If just 2% of homeowners participated in the program, 30,000 people would have an affordable place to live. Fields said their biggest challenge is getting the word out about the program and will begin running a TV commercial in the coming weeks.

Williams said he’s been speaking with staff and leaders from the city, Multnomah County and Metro and is hopeful they will support his efforts with land for the shelters and managed villages. He said there are some parts of his plan that won’t need their support, such as the Home Share Oregon website.

“If we don’t solve this homeless problem — we won’t get our city back until we do,” said Williams.

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