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United Way Gift Allows Big Expansion of Bybee Lakes Hope Center

The nonprofit’s CEO, who just resigned from A Home for Everyone’s board, also joins Bybee’s board.

The fortune Amazon built will allow the expansion of the Bybee Lakes Hope Center from 126 to 318 beds.

That’s a big boost for the emergency shelter in a North Portland structure formerly owned by Multnomah County and called the Wapato Jail. The United Way of the Columbia-Willamette is giving Bybee Lakes $1.2 million for the expansion. The money is part of a $20 million gift United Way received from MacKenzie Scott, the ex-wife of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.

“We know that housing stability is a key contributor to family resiliency,” United Way CEO Cindy Adams said in a statement. “Our support of Bybee Lakes Hope Center will more than double the number of individuals who can transition from houselessness to having a more sustainable living environment. Housing stability is fundamental to positive education outcomes for kids and health and employment outcomes for individuals and families.”

The gift also underlines a simmering tension in how leaders are addressing the homeless situation.

Adams, the United Way boss, joined the board of the Bybee Lakes Hope Center this week. That’s noteworthy because she just resigned last month from the executive board of A Home for Everyone, the organization that is overseeing the expenditure of $2.5 billion raised by the 10-year supportive housing services measure. At the time, Adams expressed frustration over the lack of urgency in that effort.

The Bybee Lakes facility’s growth comes in spite of the wishes of its former owner, Multnomah County. The county commission, led by Chair Deborah Kafoury, rejected calls to convert the surplus facility, which was funded in 1996 but never used by the county, into a homeless shelter. (A county spokesperson wasn’t immediately available for comment on the United Way gift.)

Instead, the county sold the property in 2018 to developer Jordan Schnitzer. Since then, Schnitzer, aided by state Sen. Betsy Johnson (D-Scappoose) and others, has aggressively moved ahead with the Bybee project.

“Bybee Lakes Hope Center is a perfect example of different sectors, including government, nonprofit, and private philanthropy, stepping up to find solutions for one of the true challenges Oregon and the entire country are facing today,” Johnson said in a statement.