On Tuesday, officials with the nonprofit Harbor of Hope announced the organization will use a $1.5 million personal donation from Columbia Sportswear CEO Tim Boyle to build a new 100-bed shelter. The site is a vacant plot of land in Northwest Portland, north of Union Station, beneath the Broadway Bridge.
“So much of this feels familiar — in a good way,” said Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury, who appeared at a press conference announcing the project alongside Boyle, Mayor Ted Wheeler, developer Homer Williams and others.
The project, as it was loosely sketched out on Tuesday, calls for a 9,000-square-foot shelter and accompanying 2,500-square-foot service center in the shadow of the Broadway Bridge — on a piece of property owned by Prosper Portland. The center would house between 100 and 120 people, and is expected to open later this year.
Williams and others described the shelter as a place where unsheltered Portlanders can stay on a “short-term basis,” while receiving assistance securing housing and other services.
The move is notable for a number of reasons. First, it’s perhaps an unprecedented influx of private cash into fighting Portland’s homelessness crisis.
“This takes commitment, and it takes volunteers, and it takes money,” Williams said. “That’s where the business community comes in.”
The move also signals a stark reversal for Williams, a prominent Portland developer who founded Harbor of Hope in 2016.
In 2014, he played an instrumental role in ensuring that the homeless rest area Right 2 Dream Too was not moved to a plot near the site where the navigation center is now planned. At the time, Williams was trying to keep an organized homeless camp away from the Residence Inn he was building in the area. Tuesday’s press conference was held at that Residence Inn, and Williams gestured out the window toward where the new center will be.
The announcement marks the second time a “navigation center” has been proposed in Portland. In 2016, then-Mayor Charlie Hales planned to build such a center in Southeast Portland, near the campus of the former Washington High School. That plan fizzled.
Williams has also proposed building a shelter in Northwest Portland before. In 2016, he urged officials to allow him to create a shelter at the city’s surplus Terminal 1 property, just north of the Pearl District. The city ultimately rejected the idea.
The navigation center model was born in San Francisco, in 2015. It’s designed to attract people living without shelter, who are “often fearful of accessing traditional shelter and services,” according to the website for San Francisco’s Department of Safe and Supportive Housing.
The centers have low barriers to entry, and invite a person’s significant others and pets to stay with them, once accepted. The centers also have intensive social services offerings, with case workers on site helping residents link up with assistance. The city of San Francisco now has four such facilities, and officials there say they’ve served more than 1,150 people, with 72 percent of them leaving the center for housing.
Harbor of Hope is adopting more than just the service model. The mock-ups of the forthcoming project show the shelter will resemble the large tent structure San Francisco is using for its latest navigation center.
Boyle’s role in the new project is also notable. Last year, the businessman threatened to pull the headquarters of one of his companies, Sorel, out of downtown, citing safety issues.
In response, Wheeler vowed to step up police patrols near the headquarters, and prohibited sitting on sidewalks near Columbia’s downtown flagship store during the daytime. Wheeler expanded that prohibition to several other downtown sidewalks at the same time, but the sidewalks near Columbia drew the most controversy. Activists staged a sit-in outside the store in December, causing it to shut down for a day.
Boyle said today he’d made the $1.5 million donation following discussions with Williams, Wheeler and others over the last two months.
“We’ve been talking about this for quite some time,” Boyle said. “If you say something, you better do something.”