A Portland developer and philanthropist who now owns a stake in the shuttered Wapato Jail in North Portland has offered it to the group Harbor of Hope, which wants to open a homeless shelter there.
Portland developer Marty Kehoe bought the property in mid-April for $5 million through a limited liability company, or LLC.
Kehoe said at the time he intended to lease the property and perhaps repurpose it as a distribution facility.
Then, Monday, Willamette Week reported that Portland philanthropist and real estate scion Jordan Schnitzer had paid Kehoe $5 million for a stake in Wapato.
And Schnitzer has offered to lease it to Harbor of Hope.
"He’s very civic minded. He just called me and said, 'I know you’ve worked hard on this and I want to give you a chance to get it done, and we’ll work out something that’s reasonable,'" said Homer Williams, the nonprofit's chairman.
Wapato has 510 beds and sits on 18 acres of industrial land in North Portland. A facility there could dramatically increase Portland's capacity to provide emergency shelter, but some organizations that work with homeless people view the proposal as an effort to push homeless people out of the city's downtown core.
Two weeks ago, Multnomah County rejected a last-minute offer from Harbor of Hope to buy the property for $7 million and instead completed a deal to sell the property to Kehoe.
Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury has consistently opposed locating a shelter at Wapato, saying it would isolate poor and disadvantaged families.
"Having people who are most in need close to their children's schools, their jobs and their support networks makes a lasting difference," she said, before closing the deal to sell Wapato.
On Tuesday, Kafoury's stance hadn't changed. She told OPB that while the county "didn't have any caveats on what the property could be used for" once it was sold, she sees the creation of a center for the homeless at Wapato as an uphill battle.
Kafoury also voiced a worry. Earlier this month, Williams announced plans to create a 100 or 120-bed "navigation center" for the homeless beneath the Broadway Bridge. That shelter will be constructed using a $1.5 million donation from Columbia Sportswear CEO Tim Boyle, but Williams and his allies are still looking for money to operate the center.
"I just hope this effort that’s underway now does not negatively impact the collaboration that we have with the small-scale navigation center," Kafoury said. "We’re talking large sums of dollars here."
Commissioner Loretta Smith has long advocated for a shelter at Wapato and cast the lone vote against selling the property.
"I commend the group of community leaders stepping up to do what Multnomah County has repeatedly refused to consider," she said. "It is my hope this is the beginning of a fresh start for better serving the homeless residents of Multnomah County."
Williams, himself a prominent developer, created Harbor of Hope and started pitching a large-scale shelter campus for Portland three years ago, inspired by a visit he made to a shelter called Haven of Hope in San Antonio, Texas.
That shelter cost $100 million to build, has dozens of nonprofit partners that provide services on the campus and was financed by a wealthy oil and gas executive.
Williams says he plans to spend the next three to four months working with a consultant to assess whether it's feasible to transform Wapato into a homeless shelter and how much it will cost.
Williams has said his vision is for a shelter that would be financed by business leaders and foundations, without funding from Multnomah County.
Williams' ability to privately finance the deal could be key. The city of Portland and Multnomah County have dedicated $20 million in new spending to shelter and homelessness prevention services. Mayor Ted Wheeler has said those investments have strained the city's general fund.