A new navigation center for people who are chronically homeless is opening this week in Portland’s Pearl District.

The facility, called the River District Navigation Center, will be open day and night with bunkbeds, meals, showers, and a laundry area for up to 100 men and women, along with a small outdoor courtyard.

It was built with a roughly $3 million donation from Columbia Sportswear CEO Tim Boyle and his wife, Mary Boyle, – the largest-ever single contribution to Portland and Multnomah County’s shelter system, according to local officials. 

Columbia Sportswear CEO Tim Boyle at a press briefing on Tuesday, April 10, 2018 announcing plans by Harbor of Hope to develop a new homeless shelter in northwest Portland.

Columbia Sportswear CEO Tim Boyle at a press briefing on Tuesday, April 10, 2018 announcing plans by Harbor of Hope to develop a new homeless shelter in northwest Portland.

Dirk VanderHart/OPB

Three years ago, Pearl District developer Homer Williams founded the nonprofit Oregon Harbor of Hope to try to bring a navigation center to Portland after visiting a privately-funded shelter and service center in Texas.

“Harbor of Hope shows what is possible when the private sector joins with our nonprofit organizations and the city to make real progress in the fight against homelessness,” said Mayor Ted Wheeler as the center opened Monday.

Portland and Multnomah County’s Joint Office for Homeless Services is providing more than $1 million in annual funding to operate the shelter, which will be run by the nonprofit Transition Projects. The city’s development agency Prosper Portland gave Harbor of Hope use of the municipal property the shelter sits on for the next five years.  

The navigation center won’t add significantly to the number of shelter beds citywide – it’s opening as other temporary facilities funded through the Joint Office are closing – but supporters say it will help the city coordinate its approach to helping chronically homeless people with multiple needs access housing.

Beds in the center will be available by referral only. A team of outreach workers will visit campsites and will work with the Portland Police Bureau’s neighborhood response teams to identify people to refer to the shelter.

They’ll give priority to people over 55, veterans and those with disabilities. Twenty beds will be reserved for homeless people with ongoing medical needs being discharged from local hospitals, and the facility includes a one-room health clinic that will be run by the nonprofit Central City Concern.

Stays at the navigation center will be limited to 90 days, with a focus on getting people into other programs or housing in that time.

“That’s going to be adjusted based on individual circumstances, but we really want to motivate people to move forward,” said Paul Susi, the navigation center’s manager.

The shelter will be a low barrier, meaning sobriety is not a requirement – though residents will be prohibited from bringing any drugs, alcohol or paraphernalia to the site. Pets will be allowed in carriers or on bunks on a case-by-case basis.

Homeless residents have yet to move in – the facility is waiting on a few inspections and an order of chairs from Amazon – but on Monday, city officials and curious neighbors were invited to tour the building.

“It’s crisp, clean seems to be well designed,” said Stephen Young, a resident of a nearby condominium. “I’m in support of the city experimenting with solutions to homelessness.”

“I’m excited,” said Bethanie Grabow, a renter in the neighborhood for the past four years.

Grabow says some of her neighbors are concerned that the center will attract more homeless people to the neighborhood.

“But I think they’re already here – having a place for them to go and get help is a good thing,” she said.

The longterm fate of the navigation center is uncertain. The land it sits on belongs to Prosper Portland and is part of a much larger site, known as the Broadway Corridor, which the agency is actively planning to re-develop.

The site is an old rail yard and was contaminated with pollutants. Soil remediation work added to cost overruns for the project, and a neighboring landowner filed a legal challenge questioning whether Harbor of Hope’s soil clean-up plan was adequate.

Representatives for Wheeler and Harbor of Hope said they would be open to extending the navigation center’s 5-year lease – if it didn’t interfere with the long-term redevelopment plans for the site.

“If the housing emergency were to be continued during that time, then obviously we would be interested in extending the life of the lease. That’s subject to future negotiations that are unpredictable,” said Don Mazziotti, the Director of Harbor of Hope.

Mazziotti said Harbor of Hope is interested in working with other neighborhoods in Portland to open more navigation centers – and also hopes to encourage the local business community to dedicate more of its money, time and expertise to solutions to homelessness.