Multnomah County Chair Jessica Vega Pederson and the nonprofit that runs Bybee Lakes Hope Center at the former Wapato Jail have cut a deal to keep the homeless shelter’s doors open through at least the end of the year.
After a month of stubborn negotiations, Vega Pederson agreed this week to give Bybee Lakes $1.5 million for operational expenses; Bybee’s board of directors says that’s the minimum needed to keep the 175-bed shelter running through the end of the year. Bybee had originally asked for $5 million from the county, but the chair for weeks stuck to a $808,000 offer with the stipulation that Bybee hire a third party to scrutinize its finances.
The Multnomah County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved the emergency funding at its Thursday meeting.
The chair’s negotiations with Bybee went on for more than a month before the two parties finally struck a deal. If Bybee applies for further funding after the $1.5 million in gap funds, stipulations will be added. County officials said on Thursday that Bybee would have to create a “financial recovery plan” and “allow access for the same fiscal monitoring process that applies to other providers contracting with the county.”
Prominent Portland developer Jordan Schnitzer purchased the never-used Wapato Jail from Multnomah County in 2018 and then leased it to the nonprofit Helping Hands (founded by formerly homeless Alan Evans) in 2020 for $1 annually for five years for use as a homeless shelter.
At least two county commissioners, newcomer Julia Brim-Edwards and Sharon Meieran, have said they’d like to fund Bybee past the end of the year and give the center enough money to add another 200 shelter beds.
In a series of letters between Vega Pederson’s office and the Bybee board since mid-August, board chair Jerry Walker expressed frustration that the county chair wouldn’t budge on her funding offer.
“Your proposal to pay $808,000 in early September is not enough for us to sustain our operations and recover from the deficits we have incurred serving the county since 2020 without any financial support whatsoever from the county,” the board wrote Aug. 23. Two days later, Walker added: “Frankly, many of our donors don’t understand why governments are not paying for what they believe is an essential public function.”
When Bybee first opened in 2020, Helping Hands insisted it would not need public funding. Several times since then, the nonprofit has warned that without city, county and state funding, the shelter was at risk of closure.