December 17, 2020

Multnomah County’s Board of Commissioners has approved the use of federal CARES Act funds to acquire two properties that will help it respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and provide long-term resources to provide shelter and housing for vulnerable people.

The board’s December 17 action will allow the county to acquire two properties:

  • A vacant pharmacy at 1952 N. Lombard St. that will be used as a severe weather shelter this winter and then as a full-service shelter after the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • A 59-room motel at 1530 NE 82nd Ave. that is currently being leased as a shelter for people with significant health issues, most over age 65, who have been assessed as being most at risk for serious COVID-19 infections.

An example of a physical distancing motel shelter is the Portland Value Inn - Barbur.
The board’s action allows the county to use $2.5 million in federal funds from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act before a December 30, 2020 deadline. That allocation will join funding previously allocated to the Joint Office. 

The two shelter sites will cost a combined $6.8 million. The Joint Office will also use that combined funding to pay for two other parts of its COVID-19 response: work winterizing three outdoor shelters and the purchase of survival gear like tents and sleeping bags that can help people living without shelter in the winter.

The North Portland severe winter shelter will be ready to use by Dec. 30. Unlike winter shelters, which are open every night of the winter, severe weather shelters open only on nights that meet severe weather thresholds.

It is large enough to provide shelter space where residents can be physically distant from each other during the pandemic. The maximum occupancy and an operator will be determined before it opens.

Eventually, after additional redevelopment, the site will fill an urgent gap in a part of the County that doesn’t yet have a purpose-built, services-enriched shelter. 

“This really is good news,” said Commissioner Susheela Jayapal, whose district includes the North Portland site. “I know we have been looking for that site in North Portland for a long time.”

The motel site is currently managed by nonprofit shelter and housing services provider Do Good Multnomah, through a contract with the Joint Office. It will remain open. The Joint Office’s lease included a purchase option that the County will complete this month.  After the pandemic, the Joint Office of Homeless Services will evaluate whether housing or shelter would be best for the site.

“This represents some of the best work we do at the county,” County Chair Deborah Kafoury said before the vote.  “We recognized opportunities to expand our work, and acted quickly, strategically and equitably, leading with our values. This is a smart and sound investment not just because it allows us to meet an urgent need created by the pandemic, but because it also allows us to provide critical life-saving shelter long after this pandemic has passed.”