Portland police union host a meeting to discuss plans to make Wapato a shelter

The efforts to turn the Wapato Facility into a homeless shelter is still a possibility, and the Portland Police Association hosted a meeting Wednesday, Sept 26 to hear suggestions from the community about the plan.

The tens of millions of dollars spent on programs aren’t providing resources that are humane, compassionate, and fair, said Daryl Turner, president of the PPA, and he said he has lost faith in elected officials’ ability to do the job.

Willamette Week reported on Sept 25th, that Mayor Ted Wheeler reopened negotiations with facility owner Jordan Schnitzer about the possibility of a shelter. If a deal doesn’t happen soon, Schnitzer said he’ll demolish the facility. In the story, he address many of the concerns about the potential shelter.

Homelessness isn’t solvable, but Turner said opening Wapato would be a way to get help for the most vulnerable and improve livability for people in Portland’s neighborhoods. Most of the crowd of about 40 seemed to be neighborhood advocates.

At a press conference in early April, City Council candidate Loretta Smith talked about the idea. Oregon State representative Lew Frederick, an Old Town business owner, and a representative from Southeast Allied Communities also spoke in support of the Wapato plan.

The future of Wapato has become a dividing issue in this fall’s City Council election. Smith supports the plan, while her opponent Jo Ann Hardesty opposes it.

There was push-back from the few homeless advocates present, but it also seemed some were open to the idea. Ibrahim Mubarak, executive director of Right 2 Survive, suggested that there could be a tiny house village on the property, and another advocate thought it could be best run as a land trust. One homeless advocate said she was against the idea until she took a tour of the facility.

Another advocate, Ben Kerensa, noted that several shelters have closed recently, and the ones in use now aren’t all that nice a place to stay. While people criticize Wapato for being sterile, it’s cleanliness should actually be a positive point.

Portland Mercury reported on the meeting here. It’s a good point that while the meeting was pitched as an idea session, Wapato was the only solution on the table. There were several more than “one or two” homeless advocates present, as they reported, but it’s also true that the meeting wasn’t widely publicized.

The plan to turn Wapato into a shelter was originally rejected by Multnomah County officials because it was too expensive to retrofit, too far from the City, and that homeless wouldn’t want to stay in a place that was designed to be a jail.

Angela Todd with the Montavilla Initaitive said the plan is to offer the shelter as an alternative to jailing homeless people for low level crimes. The District Attorney is on board with the idea, she wrote.

“They want to make a center to rehab and help with medical needs, job training and so forth,” she said. “If we can agree on this solution, a petition will begin for 10,000 signatures to ask the city council to give an emergency order for permits to house 600 people, so the center can be up in about 60 days.”

At the meeting Turner said residency at the shelter would be voluntary, and that residents could leave any time.

There’s an online petition asking public officials to convert Wapato to a homeless shelter.  It has over 4,500 signees currently, and can be found here.

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