Latest Notable to Show Interest in Wapato Jail for Housing Homeless People? HUD Secretary Ben Carson

Housing and Urban Development's regional administrator Jeff McMorris is scheduled to visit at 1:30 Monday.

One of President Donald Trump's cabinet members is reportedly showing interest in Portland real-estate investor Jordan Schnitzer's efforts to turn the never-used Wapato Jail into a facility to address homelessness.

That federal official? U.S. Secretary for Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson.

That's what Schnitzer says, anyway, in an email obtained by WW. The email was sent Nov. 26 by Schnitzer, who owns the North Portland jail and surrounding property.

HUD regional administrator Jeff McMorris is scheduled to visit Wapato at 1:30 Monday, Dec. 2, after Carson became interested, according to the Nov. 26 email.

"Secretary Carson is interested in seeing whether Wapato could be used as a pilot project for homeless," wrote Schnitzer in the email to Mayor Ted Wheeler, State Sen. Betsy Johnson (D-Scappoose) and others.

It's not clear from the email what exactly Carson's project is. But President Trump in September threatened to intervene in California to address the problem of homelessness, and Trump administration officials have floated the idea of razing homeless camps and moving people from the streets into updated government facilities.

Wapato Jail, which was built by Multnomah County during an expansion in the prison population, was never used for its intended purpose. Multnomah County sold the jail last year after deciding it was too costly and not an ideal location for a homeless shelter.

For years, and at least one election cycle, the jail has been the focus of an effort by downtown businesses, the Portland police union and others to identify a ready-made solution to homelessness.

Schnitzer, who has repeatedly postponed plans to demolish the jail while he seeks a workable plan to use it for addiction or other services, declined to comment Sunday.

Wheeler spokesman Timothy Becker says the mayor does not plan to attend the tour. "The Mayor's schedule has been filled out for some time and given the short notice, he does not have plans to attend," Becker texts. "Also, having toured the facility several times, he's already very familiar with it."

Email below:

Date: November 26th, 2019
To: Mayor Ted Wheeler, Senator Betsy Johnson, Kay Toran, Alan Evans, Jeff Geisler, Peter Northrup, Skip Langley
From: Jordan D. Schnitzer
Subject: HUD Tour at Wapato on Dec. 2nd @ 1:30

"Last week I received a call from a friend in Los Angeles who is close to secretary of HUD Ben Carson. He indicated that he had been sending Secretary Carson articles about Wapato. Secretary Carson is interested in seeing whether Wapato could be used as a pilot project for homeless and instructed his Chief of Staff to call my Los Angeles friend to see if they could contact us. We since have received a call from Jeff McMorris who is the political appointee of one of HUD's ten regions, the Seattle region. He would like to visit the facility with the head of HUD Portland on Monday, December 2nd at 1:30 p.m. He encouraged me to invite as many supporters of Wapato as possible. Please come and give your thoughts as to why Wapato is important for our community. Furthermore, please feel free to invite others who may be interesting in showing support for this initiative.

Very Truly Yours,

Jordan D. Schnitzer