The city of Portland broke ground on a new 208-bed homeless services center at 654 Riverside St. on Tuesday. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

The city of Portland broke ground Tuesday on a 208-bed homeless services center that officials say will transform the way the city and its partners provide critical services to those experiencing homelessness.

“I’m so pleased to be here today, marking the beginning of construction, which means we will soon be able to serve people better in the city of Portland,” said Mayor Kate Snyder during a cold and windy groundbreaking at the site of the facility at 654 Riverside Street.

The new center will replace the existing Oxford Street Shelter and is expected to take a year to complete, with doors opening in late spring or early summer 2023. Construction will cost up to $25 million and will be financed through a 25-year lease with Developers Collaborative, which is building the center, after a $6.5 million up front payment from the city using American Rescue Plan Act funds. The city would also have the option to purchase the facility for $1 at the end of year 25 of the lease.

The city has been planning for years for an alternative to its current emergency shelter at Oxford Street, which the city leases and which can serve about 150 people. The City Council in 2019 approved building a new homelessness center to be located on vacant city-owned property.

City staff issued a request for proposals in February 2021, seeking private developers to build and lease the new facility for the city to operate, and the council selected Developers Collaborative in June 2021.

The proposal for the center received pushback from some residents who felt it would be too large. Last fall, they worked to get a referendum before voters. The citizens initiative brought forward by Smaller Shelters for Portland would have limited the size of most new homeless shelters to 50 beds but received only 31 percent of the vote.


An artist’s rendering of the entry to the 208-bed homeless services center at 654 Riverside St. The $25 million project is expected to be completed in spring or summer of 2023. Rendering courtesy of Developers Collaborative

Damon Yakovleff, who served as treasurer of Smaller Shelters for Portland, said the group has disbanded as a formal committee though some of its members continue to remain active on issues related to the shelter. “I think we have to respect the outcome of the election,” Yakovleff said.

He said he has been working with the city’s bicycle and pedestrian advisory committee on ensuring accessible sidewalks and transportation in the area around the new shelter.

“We don’t want to see it fail,” Yakovleff said of the center. “We don’t want to see people harmed. We don’t agree with it as a model but that’s what was selected, so that’s what we’re going to work to support.”

The president of the group also said Tuesday that, since the city is moving forward with the project, there should be more community involvement.


“It’s unacceptable that the city did not include a single member of the Riverton community, the unhoused community or even one homeless advocacy group spokesperson on their list of speakers at today’s groundbreaking ceremony,” said Portlanders for Smaller Shelters President Stephanie Neuts in a statement.


The city didn’t intend to exclude anyone from Tuesday’s program and invited service partners that will be working at the center and neighborhood associations, including Homeless Voices for Justice, said Jessica Grondin, a city spokesperson, in response. Grondin said Tuesday’s groundbreaking was an opportunity to mark the start of the construction phase and so featured speakers involved in construction.

She said that when the city prepares for a grand opening at a later date, it will find a venue for service partners and community members to talk about how the center will operate and what it will be like inside.

The city also plans to create an advisory group before the end of construction that will include representatives from the neighborhood association, neighborhood residents, area businesses, police and homeless services center staff and clients to review complaints and recommend changes to reduce neighborhood impacts and improve client services.

“After years of community involvement, engagement, and input on this topic, it’s important to focus on the fact that (the Oxford Street Shelter) is not an adequate solution and is not fully serving those who need assistance in getting back on their feet,” Grondin said in an email. “As people said today, this new facility will not solve the crisis, but it will go far in providing comprehensive care in one location so folks no longer need to be on their own to find and locate additional services.”

Snyder, at the groundbreaking, said the location of the new center, in the Riverton neighborhood on the outskirts of the city, was selected before she took office and was one of several city-owned properties considered.

“The city looked to identify city-owned properties and then went about the analysis to determine which would be the best among those available at that time,” Snyder said.



She said the facility will provide wraparound services, such as mental and public health services, substance abuse prevention, workforce training, meals and access to general assistance, so people at the center won’t have to travel to seek those resources.

“What we’re trying to do is minimize the amount of work people who are in need need to do,” Snyder said.

The city will be partnering with local service providers, including Preble Street, Amistad, The Opportunity Alliance and Greater Portland Health.

Amistad is a nonprofit that provides peer support and advocacy on issues such as mental health, substance use disorders and homelessness.

“We help people link to all the services they need but can’t get to in conventional ways,” said Brian Townsend, the group’s executive director, who said the nonprofit plans to offer on-site support at the new facility similar to what it offers to those at Oxford Street and put up at hotels by the city.

“I wish it was sooner,” Townsend said of the opening of the new facility. “There are two hotels closing May 31 and there’s no clear shelter space for those folks, which makes this place suddenly seem too small. I’m glad it’s as big as it is and wish it was a little bigger.”

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