Kenton Businesses Raise Questions about Temporary Shelter

The old Comfy Inn on North Interstate Avenue now houses a short-term transitional housing facility.

Businesses in the Kenton neighborhood want a transitional shelter now occupying the old Comfy Inn on North Interstate Avenue to shape up or ship out.

The two-year-old shelter, through a yearly contract of about $300,000 with Multnomah Education Service District, offers short-term housing for families reuniting with children in the foster-care system. And it's run by Emmanuel Community Services, a North Portland nonprofit whose former leader came under scrutiny in The Oregonian last fall.

"We are staunch supporters of successful programs that benefit families and children at risk, and we are aware of at least two other similar transitional housing facilities being run in the neighborhood by different groups without issue and with documented success," a Feb. 19 letter from the Kenton Business Association to local elected officials reads. "In the case of the old Comfy Inn, however, we have reviewed the contract closely, and we feel that all evidence points to the conclusion that ECS is ill-equipped to provide the services outlined in this contract."

Among the concerns?

Business owners say they saw no evidence Emmanuel Community Services made upgrades to the old Comfy Inn rooms before opening it as a shelter. "Instead of desperately needed updates and renovations, a six-­foot high fence was added to the streetscape, its black, metal chain ­link resembling a prison gate, and two construction trailers were moved into the parking lot," neighbors write. "These garish additions would usually serve as temporary fixtures while the property was under improvement; instead, they are ill­-suited permanent fixtures that further call attention to the nature of the facility."

Business owners also say a commercial business district—the Kenton business district has been the focus of revitalization efforts in recent years—isn't the appropriate site for a shelter. The old motel sits in an urban renewal zone and an historic conservation business district. There was no notice to the neighborhood or city officials when the building's use changed, neighbors say.

Emmanuel Community Services' second one-year contract with MESD expires June 30. A representative responded to WW's questions about the facility's conditions with a written statement. 

"We take the concerns of the neighborhood very seriously and work daily to improve both our programmatic and aesthetics of the facility," CT Wells, board chairman of Emmanuel Community Services, wrote. "We are confident that, in time, the shelter will achieve the success to which we aspire."

WWeek 2015

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