PORTLAND, Ore. -- White flyers adorned with black and red lettering dotted the sidewalks along Southeast Foster Road Wednesday afternoon.
Captions like “100 Person Homeless Shelter”, “prime retail location” and “WHY THERE?” made for eye-catching headlines.
Robert Schultz, who lives in the nearby Lents neighborhood, didn’t make the flyers, but he understood the sense shock seemingly felt by whoever did.
“But that's the theme from the county and the city of 'We don't care what you want. We're going to do this,’” he said.
The growing buzz along that bustling portion of Foster is the result of a letter, delivered Friday to the Foster-Powell Neighborhood Association.
Signed by Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury, it invites neighbors to an informational meeting Monday evening about “our plans to open an emergency shelter for homeless adults in vacant property at 6144 SE Foster Road.”
That space in question is a former Asian grocery store, which now sits vacant, next to a 7-Eleven.
Records list the owner as Winson International LLC out of Eastvale, California.
Marc Jolin, director of the Joint Office of Homeless Services, said officials have been in talks with the owner for to lease the property for an undisclosed amount.
“We know we've got a lot of folks in the general vicinity. It's a site that's close to transit. It's also a site that, in terms of its general layout, is well set up to serve as shelter,” he said.
Part of the appeal of that layout, he said, is that it has room for renovations.
The letter says officials plan to build a “high-quality shelter with room for roughly 100 people, along with offices, showers, laundry facilities and other amenities that will help participants better connect with services. The shelter would be managed by an experienced, proven operator and would run on a reservation-based system to avoid queueing outside.”
“It seemed sudden,” said Shawn Morgan, land use chair of the Foster-Powell Neighborhood Association.
He said no one on the association had any idea officials were eyeing the space.
And while reactions are mixed, he’s trying to keep any open mind.
“Homelessness is a huge concern in our community, and the city as lots of plans,” he said. “And we're going to see what they have in store for this site before we make any decisions.”
Other neighbors told KGW they don’t need time.
They pointed out online and in person that the potential shelter site is across the street from Bar Maven and near a handful of schools, including an alternative high school that sits just behind the 7-Eleven.
Others argue the plan goes against the goal of the impending “road diet” plan, designed to narrow Southeast Foster to one lane in each direction.
Schultz argued the point of that plan was to attract businesses and increase foot traffic.
“It seems odd to stick a homeless shelter right there, when your goal as a city is to gentrify, and of course that's not even talking about the impact of the working folks that drive up and down Foster, that didn't get a strong voice in the process,” he said.
Officials with the Joint Office of Homeless Services confirmed Wednesday neighbors won’t get a formal say or vote in the final decision.
They pointed out that’s been the case with other shelters, opened since the city declared a housing crisis.
They also point out, some of those shelters, like the Hansen Building, were opened on a temporary basis.
This potential shelter is part of a new string of permanent ones, which officials can renovate.
The goal, said Jolin, is to keep 1,300 shelter beds open year-round.
Officials say the current count is approximately 1,300, but eventually temporary shelters will have to close.
“As other permanent shelters come on line, we can then begin to shift those resources,” he said.
Monday’s informational meeting about plans for the new shelter is set for 7 p.m. at the Service Employees International Union Local 503, 6401 SE Foster Road.
To read the full letter, click here.
Officials Wednesday said the planned to post a list of frequently asked questions, and their answers, on the Joint Office of Homeless Services’ website. To access that, click here.