A Northeast Portland motel that Multnomah County first rented in 2021 to shelter homeless Portlanders vulnerable to COVID-19 will remain a county-funded shelter for an additional five years, thanks to a vote of the county’s commissioners Thursday.
The county will pay $3.5 million annually to rent 137 rooms at the motel. That comes to $25,547 a year per motel room.
The use of motel shelters has been regarded for years as a controversial way to house people, due to its high costs relative to congregate shelters. But supporters of the motel model say its power is in the privacy it affords people, privacy not available in congregate shelters. Multnomah County currently operates or funds a handful of motel shelters across the county—a model it leaned on more heavily during the pandemic.
County officials shared data on Thursday showing the efficacy of using Northeast Portland’s Roseway Inn as a shelter. In the past fiscal year, data showed, the motel, operated by the nonprofit Do Good Multnomah, hosted a total of 241 people. Of those, 157 left the motel: 58 moved into permanent supportive housing, 41 returned to homelessness, 10 went to another temporary shelter, seven died, six were institutionalized, and the county is unsure where the other 32 landed.
County Commissioner Sharon Meieran said she was disturbed by the seven deaths. “Not only is this shelter not effective; the only clear data that we have shows that the shelter is causing devastating harm,” Meieran said. “Four-point-five percent of the people in this shelter exit to death. Die. What are we doing?”
County Chair Jessica Vega Pederson replied that the “sad reality” is that homeless people die younger than housed people.
“People who are living outside and unsheltered have incredibly shorter life spans than we see in the average population. Death is always an unfortunate outcome,” Vega Pederson said, “but it’s not always correlated with a particular shelter.”
Despite Meieran’s protests, the rental agreement passed by a 3-1 vote. Meieran was the sole “no” vote, although Commissioner Julia Brim-Edwards did express concerns about the costs and asked why the county didn’t simply buy the motel outright.