100-bed homeless shelter planned for SE Portland neighborhood: 'It’s got to go somewhere'

6144 SE Foster Rd - Photo from KATU reporter Keaton Thomas

PORTLAND, Ore. – Officials say their proposal for a 100-bed shelter on SE Foster Road fits a need in the community, but some concerned neighbors feel it will negatively affect the neighborhood.

The Joint Office of Homeless Services (JOHS) is planning to house homeless adults in a vacant building at 6144 SE Foster Road, which is near the Holgate Boulevard intersection.

According to a letter from JOHS:

“By next year we plan to convert the space into a high-quality shelter with room for roughly 100 people, along with offices, showers, laundry facilities, and other amenities that will help participants better connect with services. The shelter would be managed by an experienced, proven operator and would run on a reservation-based system to avoid queuing outside.”

Marc Jolin, executive director of JOHS, says the shelter is filling a need in the community and they determined this would be a viable option for a long-term shelter.

“It's the nature of the structure, it's the location, and it's a part of the community where there are a lot of folks who are living outside now and in need of emergency shelter. Close to transit, accessible for folks, it meets a lot of criteria we have for emergency shelter,” Jolin said.

Curtis MacDonald’s auto shop, Mac’s, is directly across the street from the proposed location. He says he was blindsided by the news and didn’t know about the shelter until a neighbor shared a news article over the weekend. He says he expected JOHS to speak with neighbors before moving forward.

“For us, they are in our front yard. We've been here for 70 years now at the same location. It's kind of almost a courtesy,” MacDonald said.

MacDonald fears a shelter across the street will drive away customers and it takes away a prime retail location. He says there are better locations in the neighborhood for a shelter.

“Right now, as a business owner, I don't want it across the street from me. I hate to be one of those people that says 'not in my backyard,' but not in my front yard either,” he said.

On the other side, the Mt. Scott Learning Center is directly across from the planned shelter. It is an alternative school for 160 high school students. There executive director, Tom DeJardin sent a letter home to parents on Monday to let them know about the proposal.

“While we strongly support options for the homeless, Mt. Scott Learning Center's highest priority is the students and families we serve each day. Understandably, we have serious concerns about this proposed shelter and will be attending the City's community meeting about the project next Monday, December 18th,” DeJardin wrote.

Adam Clasen says he lives in the area. He says adding a shelter will affect the community. It’s like adding 100 new homes in the area. But Clasen says if community members support finding options for the homeless, they cannot have the “not in my backyard” mentality.

“It’s got to go somewhere,” he said. “At least for the people that really want to get themselves out of a situation, it gives them a base, somewhere where they can get a good night sleep and take a shower. It's hard to get a job interview when you're disgusting.”

Jolin understands why some community members may be concerned, but he says a shelter can benefit the neighborhood.

“We don't see a well-run shelter making a challenging situation worse, if anything it makes a challenging situation better both for the individual and the community,” said Jolin.

For example, JOHS opened a similar shelter last year in Westmoreland called the Willamette Resource Center which houses 120 people. Jolin says that neighborhood has not had issues since the shelter was built, instead he says it has grown stronger.

There will be a public meeting on Dec. 18 at the meeting hall of Service Employees International Union Local 503. The address is 6401 SE Foster Road. Several elected officials will be there to answer questions from the community and hear concerns.

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