In a memo released today, Mayor Ted Wheeler says he is seeking to add just 200 more beds to area homeless shelters—and instead wants to to focus his next efforts on getting people into permanent housing.

The memo, sent to City Council colleagues and Multnomah County officials, is the latest move by Wheeler to gradually pivot away from shelter beds and toward permanent housing as a way to address Portland homelessness.

In his run for mayor, Wheeler pledged to assure that "every person living on Portland's streets has a safe place to sleep." He emphasized shelter beds as the best way to do that.

Multnomah County has about 1,600 shelter beds—and more than 4,000 homeless people.

But starting with an interview in WW this week, Wheeler began staking out the position that 1,800 shelter beds is a good place to stop—in order to dedicate resources instead toward housing that comes with social services.

He solidified that shift today.

"I still think 1,800 is around the right number, and because we are so close, I hope the conversation pivots from the number of beds to the quality of beds," the mayor wrote in the memo to colleagues.

"For example, permanent shelter beds are preferable to temporary shelter beds. Low barrier shelter has advantages over high-barrier shelter. Most importantly, increasing the throughput in our shelters—getting people off the street, into shelter, and into housing—should be prioritized."

The mayor's memo, sent to fellow members of City Council, tallies the current number of shelter beds in Multnomah County at 1,600. The number includes roughly 1,300 publicly-funded, year-round shelter beds, as well as 300 privately-funded beds, according to data from the Joint Office of Homeless Services.

It's a conservative estimate of year-round shelter beds. If he had included shelters receiving temporary funding as well as nontraditional shelters, such as Right to Dream that are not publicly funded through the joint office, the number is above 1,900.

Here's the tally, according to data provided by the Joint Office of Homeless Services:

Publicly Supported Year-Round Facility Based
Clark Center (men) 90
Doreen’s Place (women) 90
Willamette Resource Center (couples) 120
Hansen Shelter (mixed adult) 200
Do Good Multnomah: Veteran Shelter (men) 30
SOS Women’s Shelter (women) 75
SAFES Year Round Women’s Shelter (women) 105
Jean’s Place (women) 60
Gresham Women’s Shelter (women) 90
Kenton Village (women) 14
Family Shelter – East/West Side (families w kids) 125
Family Shelter – Overflow Motel Vouchers 100
Community of Hope (families w kids) 20
Janus Youth (youth) 72
Daybreak (families w kids) 15
DV Shelters, Facility and Scattered Site 90
DV Motel Vouchers 15
Unity Shelter (motel vouchers, facility site TBD) 30
Total: 1341
Privately Funded Shelter – Year Round
City Team 58
Portland Rescue Mission 98
My Father’s House 110
Total: 266
Total Year-Round 1607
Temporary Publicly Funded
Columbia 90
Family Voucher Additional Overflow 100
Total Temporary 190
Total Non-Traditional Shelter w/o Public Operating
Dignity Village 60
Right to Dream 90
Hazelnut Grove 25
Total 175

Full memo:

MEMO

September 29, 2017

From: Mayor Ted Wheeler

To: Portland City Council Commissioners

Cc: Deborah Kafoury, Marc Jolin

Re: Shelter, Permanent Supportive Housing, and Revenue

I want to point you to the article linked here, if you have not seen it already. It was a short interview, but was packed with information about where I see the conversation around housing and homelessness heading in the months ahead. I’d like to take this opportunity to unpack my thoughts with you.

Nearly two years ago, I made a commitment to significantly increase shelter space in Portland. At that time, I was asked what that commitment meant in terms of numbers, and I stated that my belief was that we needed about 1,000 additional shelter beds, or about 1,800 total.

Since that time, the City and County have significantly increased our investments in shelter, to the point that we now have more than 1,600 beds system-wide. Much of that work took place before I was sworn in, and I thank those who put in the hard work to get it done. With some additional shelter options in the works, I think we are in a good place regarding the number of beds in our community.

I still think 1,800 is around the right number, and because we are so close, I hope the conversation pivots from the number of beds to the quality of beds. For example, permanent shelter beds are preferable to temporary shelter beds. Low barrier shelter has advantages over high-barrier shelter. Most importantly, increasing the throughput in our shelters – getting people off the street, into shelter, and into housing – should be prioritized.

While we continue to focus on the short-term challenges to ensure that shelter is available for those who want and need it, we need to begin planning in earnest for strategies that will lead to sustained success over the long-term.

One proven approach to moving people into housing, while also addressing the challenges we face around chronic homelessness is to invest in supportive housing. Commissioner Fish and Chair Kafoury are working on an ambitious proposal to significantly increase the number of supportive housing units in our community. I am proud to support that work and to help lead it.

A key to sustained success is a sustainable budget. Increasing shelter beds takes money. Making those beds higher-quality requires investments. Homelessness prevention, housing placement, improved addiction and mental health is dependent on dollars. That is why I support new revenue dedicated to homeless services. I do not have a settled preference when it comes to which mechanism we decide upon or where the money is specifically directed, but the need is clear.

One thing that has become clear to me is that we succeed or fail as a team. The City Council, our bureaus, the County, and the Joint Office must all work together to agree upon and implement the strategy. I do not claim all the ideas presented here as my own. Many people championed them before me, and many deserve the credit for the progress we’ve made.

I look forward to continuing these discussions in the coming weeks and months, and I look forward to continuing the sense of unity and purpose we’ve adopted to addressing our shared challenges.