Developer Homer Williams Says His Shelter Won't Work at Wapato Jail, Will Proceed at Terminal 1

The developer behind the homeless shelter at Terminal 1 says that his shelter will open with just 100 people to start.

Real-estate developer Homer Williams says his plan to open a 500-person homeless shelter won't work at the county's vacant Wapato Jail, even as his preferred Northwest Portland site faces multiple legal challenges.

Williams' proposed shelter at the Northwest Industrial site known as Terminal 1 has already been scaled back to open with space for just 100 people, much lower than the 500-person capacity previously discussed.

But Williams isn't interested in the suggestion, made by elected officials including Multnomah County Commissioner Loretta Smith, that the empty Wapato site would be a more efficient site for a large homeless shelter.

For the shelter to work effectively with the chronically homeless they need to be close to downtown or other services, Williams says.

"They need to be near the services that can help them," he tells WW, noting that the remote location would also be a problem for workers and volunteers, who've promised to help with the project.

Wapato, which was never used as a jail, has come up repeatedly as a shelter option as Portland grapples with how to shelter its homeless people.

Last week County Commissioner Loretta Smith began pushing to re-consider the jail as a shelter—it's in her district—even as County Chair Deborah Kafoury opposes the option, in part because of the $136,000 a month price tag just for basic utilities, not including services.

Williams has been working to develop a shelter called the Oregon Trail of Hope, based on the model of San Antonio's Haven of Hope, which will provide services for the homeless on site.

The Terminal 1 project faces two legal obstacles: a Land Use Board of Appeals challenge, over the use of industrial site for residential purposes, and a lawsuit from water bureau ratepayers, challenging the compensation the Bureau of Environmental Services, filed by lawyer John DiLorenzo.

The Portland Housing Bureau may have addressed the second of those by choosing to lease only a portion of the site at market rate, at least initially, The Portland Mercury reported last week, which noted the Housing Bureau would pursue a lease that involved only a fraction of the Terminal 1 property and open with beds for just 100.

Williams says the project is being phased in because of existing leases on the property.

Jim Blackwood, a senior policy director for City Commissioner Nick Fish, takes issue with that assertion, noting the current leases only require 30 day notice.

"We can accommodate any plan once we know what that plan is," says Blackwood.

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