A year ago, when WW asked readers what should be done with a struggling Lloyd Center Mall, by far the most popular suggestion was to repurpose it as a massive homeless shelter.
This weekend, as Portland dug out from under nearly a foot of snow and saw wind chills dip into the teens, that’s what happened. For the first time in its history, the 62-year-old mall was used as an overnight shelter.
Multnomah County officials report that 100 people used the mall as a place to sleep Friday night, and another 100 on Saturday.
The first night saw sleeping quarters placed in the mall corridor between Barnes & Noble Booksellers and Ross Dress for Less. On Saturday, the shelter was moved into the vacant Marshall’s department store. Moving the sleeping quarters into the onetime anchor store meant that custodial crews didn’t have to rush through cleaning in order for the mall to open to customers this morning, says county spokesman Denis Theriault.
Lloyd Center has been in financial distress for years, a decline accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic. In December 2021, KKR Real Estate Finance Trust, the lender that helped Dallas-based Cypress Equities finance the mall, repossessed it.
Seven months later, Jonna Pappaefthimiou of the Portland Bureau of Emergency Management made a cold call to mall management to see if Lloyd Center would be listed as a daytime cooling center during a July 2022 heat wave, Theriault says. Mall managers agreed. Pappaefthimiou reached out again as snow descended on Portland last week. Again, Lloyd Center’s management agreed to use of the space for warming during daylight hours.
“And as the snow lingered and we needed more overnight space to keep meeting rising demand for warming beds, she asked if they would let people not just stay but sleep there, and they agreed again,” Theriault says. “Jonna says they’ve been really great to work with.”
As previously reported, Multnomah County opened seven shelters as conditions deteriorated during a record-setting and unexpected winter storm. County officials say about 850 people sought shelter from the cold Friday night. Fewer did so on Saturday, as conditions improved.
One person is believed to have died from hypothermia during the storm. That death has intensified criticism of a new policy by City Commissioner Rene Gonzalez banning the distribution of tents by offices he manages, in order to reduce potential fuel for fires.