Despite a deadly pandemic that saw two outbreaks at the Oxford Street Shelter, the Portland City Council is plowing forward with a plan to put a 209-bed homeless shelter in Riverton. The city is looking to build and maintain this structure through a public-private partnership which, at current estimates, would commit the city to a 20-year lease of roughly $1 million a year, and that’s just for the proposed building.

Unlike other neighborhoods, many Riverton residents have accepted the idea of a smaller shelter at the Riverside Street location. As it now stands, one neighborhood will bear the burden of a city policy that puts no limits on the number of homeless seeking aid. This policy has been in place since the mid-80s, when Portland was sheltering well under 100 people per night. The population of the city has changed little since then, and because other communities are not helping their own, per capita homeless numbers in Portland are now rivaling those of New York City and Los Angeles.

If the city insists on maintaining this policy, perhaps it should take another look at the smaller-shelter model. According to a 2015 city study, a two-shelter model would cost taxpayers less than the yearly mortgage on the proposed 209-bed shelter. Having smaller shelters would allow workers to better target services for those in need. It would also allow flexibility in dealing with outbreaks of this far-from-over pandemic, and future ones.

Jason Lambert

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