The city pegged the Terminal 1 warehouse in Northwest Portland as a potential site for a homeless shelter.

The city pegged the Terminal 1 warehouse in Northwest Portland as a potential site for a homeless shelter.

Jonathan House/The Portland Tribune

Even as some 100 campers were moved off the Springwater Corridor area last weekend, city leaders have been struggling to find shelter space in Portland. An industrial warehouse space known as Terminal 1 has been chosen as a site for a shelter, but city commissioners are divided on the issue.

The shelter at Terminal 1 is the brainchild of wealthy businessman Homer Williams. He would like to model it on a shelter he visited in San Antonio, Texas, called Haven for Hope. There, homeless people have access to shelter, transitional housing and numerous social services, such as counseling and job training. Haven for Hope claims to have moved nearly 3,000 people to permanent housing since it opened in 2010. Think Out Loud spoke with Scott Ackerson, vice president of strategic relations for Haven for Hope, about the organization and asked city commissioners about whether or not it is possible to implement a similar project in Portland. 

On The Origins Of Haven For Hope

Ackerson says the site for the San Antonio facility was a rough area in the past.

“Haven for Hope actually was a band of abandoned warehouses … There were many people that were drinking and drugging in the buildings, and so it was basically a useless piece of property before it became Haven for Hope.”

Because it was an industrial area the site had to be rezoned, so the city created a new reclassification called a “homeless campus” for the organization. It cost $101 million to build with 60 percent of the funding coming from the private sector and 40 percent from the public sector. The annual operating budget is $18 million.

On The Services Provided By Haven For Hope

The facility is a 22-acre area divided into a courtyard that currently sleeps roughly 700 people a night, and a campus that sleeps 850 people a night. The organization provides basic services such as food, showers and restrooms, as well as more comprehensive services like supportive housing interventions, outreach workers, housing providers and peer support specialists. The focus is on engagement and getting people on track with the services they need to overcome homelessness. 

Ackerson believes that if we do not deal with issues such as trauma, addiction and mental illness, we will never solve the problem of homelessness.

“I think we’ve been saying homeless is the problem for 40 years. And I’m convinced now that homeless really is more of the symptom, and we really haven’t dealt with the core issues related to homelessness.” 

On The Large Scale Campus Environment 

When asked if Haven for Hope was “warehousing” homeless people Ackerson responded, “That’s like saying hospitals are warehousing patients.” Although initially skeptical of the large campus model, Ackerson now believes that this system allows homeless people to receive the proper assistance they need to thrive.

“In most cities, if you go to the urban core, look for the most dilapidated building in the urban core. You’ve probably found the emergency shelter.” Ackerson says that Haven for Hope looks like a park, with children playing and adults strolling around the courtyard. 

On Terminal 1 As A Possible Site

While Commissioner Dan Saltzman believes that facilities similar to Haven for Hope could be developed in Portland, at this stage the city is only proposing to use the city-owned Terminal 1 warehouse as immediate emergency shelter. He says that the warehouse would be a good site for a shelter because it is in good condition, and it is located near useful services for homeless people in Old Town.

Commissioner Nick Fish disagrees with this plan: “I don’t believe we should warehouse homeless people in an industrial area that is unsafe. … It was never designed to be a place for human habitation.” Fish believes the site should be sold to a company that will use it as it was intended to be used. According to Fish, the city needs this space for industry that will generate middle-income jobs.

Initially the city planned to provide shelter for up to 400 people at Terminal 1. The project has now been scaled back to provide shelter for just 100 people.  In addition, the Working Waterfront Coalition has challenged the city’s plan through the Land Use Board of Appeals. They hope to invalidate city council’s vote on the grounds that their plans for the shelter violate zoning rules. When asked about the zoning issues, Saltzman explained, “We’re not actually proposing to rezone the property. We are aloud to under city code to use any property for a shelter for up to six months.”