Sep 12, 2023 - News

The future of Portland's Bybee Lakes homeless shelter

Illustration of a collection of checks with the shadow of a hand with a pen looming over one of them

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Portland's largest homeless shelter received a $1.5 million emergency grant from the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners last week to keep it running through the rest of the year, but its future remains uncertain.

Why it matters: This is the first time the county has provided financial assistance to the Bybee Lakes Hope Center, the North Portland shelter operated by Helping Hands Reentry Outreach that opened in the never-used Wapato Jail in 2020.

  • Funding will go toward keeping the 175-bed shelter operational through Dec. 31.

Driving the news: Founder Alan Evans said the cost of running Bybee Lakes — about $4.5 million annually — quickly started to outweigh the donations it received from the private sector and the shelter was at risk of closing.

  • Earlier this summer, Helping Hands submitted a proposal to Multnomah County asking for an immediate $3 million grant, as well as $500,000 a quarter for the next fiscal year.

But after tense negotiations with commission Chair Jessica Vega Pederson, both parties agreed to the $1.5 million, and ongoing discussions will determine whether a partnership with the Joint Office of Homeless Services will be enough to keep the doors open in the long term.

State of play: The money comes with stipulations. To be eligible for additional funding, Bybee Lakes is required to develop a financial recovery plan, hold regular meetings and open its books for county finance officials to monitor spending.

  • Bybee Lakes has enough space for an additional 200 beds, but before funds can be allocated for an expansion of services, Vega Pederson wants a third-party financial review to take place.

Flashback: In 2018, Multnomah County sold the Wapato property to developer and philanthropist Jordan Schnitzer, who then leased the 15,000-square-foot facility to Helping Hands in 2020 for $1 annually.

The intrigue: Despite saying it didn't require government assistance to operate when it opened three years ago, Bybee Lakes has since asked for city, county and state funding to sustain itself.

  • It received $2 million from the state in 2021, but Multnomah County officials have been hesitant to give funding due to the program's approach and distance from other services. (It's 11 miles from downtown.)

Meanwhile, Bybee Lakes functions as both an emergency shelter and a referral only, high-barrier transitional housing shelter. People must be sober in order to receive a bed.

What we're watching: Whether the funds will translate into success helping homeless people find more permanent housing — something the county has struggled with despite designating tens of millions of dollars to homeless services.


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