Last Wednesday, the 69 residents of the Taft Hotel, located at Southwest 13th Avenue and Washington Street, got a nasty shock.
At a tense meeting in the lobby, the hotel's operator, Cascadia Behavioral Healthcare, announced that the building would shut its doors in April, creating a huge uncertainty for the Taft's residents, a vulnerable mix of the mentally ill, the disabled, the sick and the elderly.
"They don't have any place to go, really," says Peter Mitchell, a psychiatric nurse at the Veterans Administration. "Nobody else will take these folks. It's a real blow."
Cascadia is losing $400,000 a year on the hotel, according to spokesman Mark Schorr, adding that the agency, which slashed 118 employees last month, can no longer afford to keep the hotel open.
Schorr says Cascadia will try to help place the residents in new homes. "The plan is to find people other places," Schorr told WW. "But there are no guarantees."
Most of the residents of the Taft suffer from major mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia. Others hobble around on canes or walkers. All live on fixed incomes.
The mood in the lobby last week was glum. "I'm still a little numb," says Jeff Rowland, 53, a schizophrenic dishwasher who has lived at the Taft for 14 years.
Sitting across from an elegant upright piano, Violet Smith, 83, who has been living at the Taft for 40 years, stared into space with her head in her hands, her neck bent like a broken stalk of corn.
Social workers say that uprooting this population can be difficult. "Any kind of change in residence is upsetting," says nurse Mitchell. "They call it 'transfer trauma.'"
One resident, Paul Thrash, died within hours of hearing the news. The 64-year-old had lived in the Taft for 30 years. The cause of death has not been determined, but other residents believe that the closure played a role in his demise.
Who's to blame for the roguish demise of the Taft? It's hard to fault Cascadia, which is coming under severe pressure from state and local cutbacks. Even the bureaucrats, whose budgets are dictated in Salem and Washington, D.C., don't have much wiggle room. Ultimately, the responsibility for the residents falls to state and federal lawmakers, who take their cue from the voters, few of whom live in places like the Taft.