Portland Motels Are Surviving With Contracts to Shelter the Houseless Each Night

The Joint Office of Homelesss Services has long-term leases on 409 hotel rooms.

The Joint Office of Homelesss Services booked 409 hotel and motel rooms to house people who need special shelter from the COVID-19 pandemic—at a cost of $26,441 per day to taxpayers and more than twice that amount for support services.

The city's homeless camps have largely been spared from the pandemic so far. But on Nov. 30, KGW reported that 18 of 27 men in a recovery program at the downtown Union Gospel Mission, along with two staff members, appeared to have contracted the virus.

County health officials have long feared that houseless and otherwise economically marginalized Portlanders would be susceptible to COVID. That's why they've booked long-term leases—most of them through the end of next June—at eight hotels and motels.

"We want to give folks who are vulnerable their own space, including their own bathrooms," says joint office spokesman Denis Theriault.

Two of the hotels serve people who have COVID-19 or have been referred by a medical facility because of a specific susceptibility to the virus. Support service costs at those two hotels total $800,000 a month.

Five of the hotels, operated by nonprofits that run shelters for the joint office, house people who would otherwise stay in congregate shelters but need extra space because they are particularly vulnerable to COVID due to age or underlying medical conditions. Support service costs at those five hotels total $1 million a month.

In late October, the Joint Office of Homeless Services inked an agreement for an eighth hotel—its first in Southwest Portland—bringing the total rooms for which the joint office has a long-term lease to 409. (The agency has an option to buy one of the hotels: a 40-unit facility it could acquire for $4.2 million.)

The properties range from onetime hipster hangout the Jupiter Hotel on inner East Burnside to less glamorous digs on North Interstate and Southeast 82nd avenues and as far east as 183rd Avenue in Gresham.

The daily rates the joint office is paying don't vary much: They range from $69 a room at the Jupiter to $60 at an 82nd Avenue motel. With hotel occupancy rates in Portland hovering at around 30%, it's clear that owners of the properties cut smart deals.

Theriault says the hotels are working well for the joint office so far, but he wishes they weren't necessary.

"The best medicine," he says, "would have been prevention."

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