The Board of Commissioners on Thursday, Jan. 4, approved $6.25 million in County funds to support Central City Concern’s purchase of a property that will be used for treatment and transitional housing for people recovering from substance use disorders.
The 70-bed facility, located in the central eastside, is planned to begin serving clients within 10 months, in late 2024, before becoming fully operational by next year.
In addition to the County’s share, which includes $4 million in one-time Supportive Housing Services funds, the State of Oregon committed $6 million, the City of Portland is set to approve $3 million, and Central City Concern committed $2 million. A portion of those combined funds, $1.75 million, will pay for renovations.
The Board voted 4-0 to approve the funding, with Commissioner Sharon Meieran out with an excused absence.
Vega Pederson underscored the urgent need to open additional facilities serving people experiencing behavioral health challenges and homelessness.
“These are people facing multiple issues: addiction, unmet psychiatric needs, dire medical conditions. People who have few if any options to get their needs met and move forward,” Vega Pederson said. “The crisis on our streets, in our neighborhoods, and across every neighborhood of this county, demands that we continue to move with the same focus both today and tomorrow.”
The investment builds on other recent board investments in addiction recovery and transitional housing services, including $6.85 million for a 24/7 stabilization center sought by healthcare experts, 125 units/vouchers of housing for people in recovery, and a $150,000 investment toward the design and project planning of a 24/7 sobering drop-off center.
Additionally, the investment is in line with recent recommendations from Portland Central City Task Force convened by the Governor, which directed the creation of additional residential recovery beds in Portland.
The facility envisioned by Central City Concern will primarily serve people leaving detoxification services — typically shorter-term services that support people as they go through the initial stages of addiction recovery — who need additional, longer-term care. Services like those offered at the planned facility are a gap in Portland’s current addiction services continuum.
“Step-down from detox — transitional housing and recovery services — are a critical link to help people stabilize on the path to health and well-being. And it’s missing,” said Mary-Rain O’Meara, director of community development at Central City Concern. “We need to expand this service within our community.”
That gap, O’Meara said, is illustrated by Central City Concern’s Hooper Detoxification Stabilization Center. Because of a lack of available step-down services, she said about one-third of the 3,000 people it serves each year are sent back to living on the streets after detox.
Central City Concern will provide the programming and 24/7 staffing for the new facility. The site is expected to provide 40 residential treatment beds serving individuals for one to four months, followed by step-down services on-site with 30-35 transitional housing beds along with outpatient substance use disorder services.
The building, which Vega Pederson described as “nearly turnkey,” is a new construction and has a commercial kitchen and laundry facilities.
The Board heard testimony from some neighbors who expressed concern about the accelerated timeline, frustration over a lack of initial community involvement in light of that timeline, and anxiety about potential impacts to the surrounding neighborhood.
Following that testimony, Commissioner Jesse Beason asked O’Meara about Central City Concern’s plans for engaging the community in the project. “Can you talk about how and why this process needed to move relatively quickly to acquire the site?” he asked.
The organization typically engages in a longer process of community engagement before opening a site, O’Meara said, but the nature of the transaction limited their ability to engage the community.
“This transaction, being an auction, required us to move quickly,” she said. “And we are under a confidentiality agreement with the seller, so we are bound to certain restrictions in this process where we could not engage in a more typical community engagement exercise.”
“We are committed to, once the sale is final, immediately reaching out to the neighborhood association and other community stakeholders, and engaging in those conversations,” O’Meara continued.
“I’m excited to see the level of engagement you all do over the next 10 months to ensure that this becomes an important asset for our community and for the neighborhood as well,” Beason said.
Commissioner Julia Brim-Edwards agreed that the need for these kinds of facilities is urgent, pointing to both the recently released 2022 Domicile Unknown report and a study from Oregon Health & Science University showing that there is a 49% gap between the need and availability of substance use disorder services in Oregon.
“To me, it just highlights why we need to move projects forward and support them so we can close that gap,” she said. “I’m supportive of adding critically needed treatment beds.”
Brim-Edwards also said more community engagement would be needed, and said she hopes Central City Concern works with neighbors to ensure the success of the program.
Commissioner Lori Stegmann also highlighted the urgent behavioral health needs the project could help address.
“We know that Oregon has one of the highest substance use disorder rates in the country. We also know that we have one of the lowest resources for services,” she said.
Vega Pederson said the community engagement process would be critical to the success of the program, recalling that community engagement leading up to the opening of the Laurelwood Center shelter was key to that facility’s integration into the neighborhood.
“I know there is a lot of anxiety about what happens. It is a process that we work for and it’s one that is going to involve the community,” Vega Pederson said.