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November 14th, 2007 NIGEL JAQUISS | News Stories
 

Helter Shelter

Gay bar site to be city’s permanent homeless shelter.

     
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GIVE THEM SHELTER: A new homeless shelter planned here means the Dirty Duck must find a new nest. When that would happen is less certain.

The city’s long search to find a permanent site for its drop-in homeless shelter has reached a conclusion.

Portland Development Commission officials tell WW that the so-called Resource Access Center, now in temporary digs at Northwest 5th Avenue and Glisan Street, will be permanently located on city-owned property at 3rd and Glisan.

The permanent site is on what’s commonly referred to as the “Dirty Duck” block, named after a quirky gay bar (see “Bear Trap,” WW , Oct. 17, 2007) on the block’s northeast corner.

PDC officials are working with the Housing Authority of Portland to outfit the shelter with showers, bathrooms, telephones, a community kitchen and dining area to be operated by Transition Projects Inc., the nonprofit that now provides such services to 200 people a day.

The site may also have “permanently supportive housing” for people earning less than 50 percent of the median income. The number of such units is unclear because proposals from design firms are due Nov. 16. After a design firm is selected, its team will generate building plans for the June 2009 ground-breaking, including whether the facility will include housing, and if so, how much.

The city has been looking for a permanent site since 2005. Homeless Portlanders currently have no place to go when shelters turn them loose in the morning.

“This will give us a central place rather than forcing people to go from location to location to get services,” says Transition Projects director Doreen Binder.

The Dirty Duck block is just west of the Steel Bridge in the Downtown Waterfront Urban Renewal Area, which is scheduled to expire in April 2008.

Peter Englander, PDC’s development manager for the area, says project funding will come from tax-increment financing—essentially, borrowing against future property tax receipts in the neighborhood, and low-income tax credits.

With PDC’s help, the neighborhood has been changing rapidly. In recent years, projects such as the Pacific Tower and Old Town Lofts have replaced single-room occupancies and low-rise shops.

In addition to choosing a design, HAP and its partners face a couple of other challenges.

Englander says half of the Dirty Duck block is a city-owned surface parking lot, on which the city has a long-term obligation to provide 130 parking spaces for NW Natural’s nearby headquarters. The block also includes Blanchet House, a private provider of services for homeless men. The house is a rickety, unreinforced masonry building in need of replacement.

PDC has set aside $2 million of urban renewal money to help with that replacement, which will keep Blanchet on the same block. The tentative plan is for the Resource Access Center and Blanchet House to occupy half the block. The rest would be housing, probably above parking.

Neighborhood opposition has been muted. City Commissioner Erik Sten, whose 10-year plan to end homelessness includes the Resource Access Center, says that reflects changing attitudes.

“Three years ago ... this would have been impossible,” Sten says. “People’s consciousness has been raised and they’ve figured out it’s better to have somebody inside getting services than urinating in a doorway.”


FACT: The city’s annual homeless census in January counted 1,438 people and 2,014 households in shelters or transitional housing, or receiving rent assistance.
 
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