Board OKs plan for first large shelter in North Portland; Joint Office opens interim Arbor Lodge shelter immediately, to help people right now

November 18, 2021

Marc Jolin and Chair Deborah Kafoury tour the recently purchased Arbor Lodge shelter site on Dec. 22, 2020.
The Board of County Commissioners on Thursday, Nov. 18, unanimously approved preliminary plans for what’s set to be the first large-scale, services-enriched shelter in North Portland.  

Thursday’s vote authorizes the Joint Office of Homeless Services to proceed with design development and pre-construction on the permanent version of the Arbor Lodge Shelter, which will take shape in a former Rite Aid that Multnomah County purchased last year with $2.6 million in one-time federal COVID-19 dollars.

The long-term shelter is part of a significant expansion of the shelter system in Portland and Multnomah County that will add hundreds of new beds — thanks to federal funding, Metro Supportive Housing Services funding and recently allocated surplus funding 

Arbor Lodge will serve as many as 120 people when fully built out. Like all new long-term shelters opened by the Joint Office, it will include amenities such as showers, laundry, spaces for case management, common spaces and a large kitchen. In addition to as many as 100 beds inside, the shelter will offer roughly 20 heated sleeping pods in its parking lot.

“Our neighbors experiencing homelessness are just that — our neighbors — so it’s important that the shelters they rely on for short-term rest and safety are integrated into our neighborhoods, and that our shelters are thoughtfully distributed throughout the community to be as accessible as possible,” Chair Deborah Kafoury said.

No waiting for shelter: Winter shelter opens in the meantime

Construction and design toward that vision, with a preliminary total cost of up to $5 million, could start by September 2022 and finish a year later. But the building won’t sit idle until then, the Joint Office told the Board.

The Rite Aid site will open as an interim, all-winter shelter on Friday, Nov. 19, with room for 58 people inside and up to 12 more people sheltered in pods outside. Longtime shelter provider Do Good Multnomah is serving as the operator. 

The seasonal shelter opens after the Joint Office and County used the building for physically distanced severe weather shelter last winter and summer. The Health Department also used the building this year to hold COVID-19 vaccine clinics.

Toni Weiner, left, and Marc Jolin, Joint Office director, brief the Board on plans for the Arbor Lodge shelter on Nov. 18, 2021.
Work to create the immediate winter shelter was supported by $5 million in state funding championed by House Speaker Tina Kotek, whose North Portland district includes the shelter site. Construction and operations of the long-term shelter will be funded through the County’s share of the Metro Supportive Housing Services Measure.

“I want to commend the leadership of the Joint Office for looking at how we can do the near-term needs of this coming winter, and the longer-term needs for a full-time shelter,” Kotek told commissioners on Thursday. 

Marc Jolin, director of the Joint Office, said the balancing of immediate and long-term needs “speaks to the intentional and urgent way we’ve responded to this emergency. We are leveraging both federal and local funding to stand up new services and shelter right now, while also building a program that will serve this community for the long term.”

“We expect to keep the shelter open as long as we can, until construction is ready to begin,” Jolin added later.

Toni Weiner, the County’s project manager for the Arbor Lodge shelter, detailed the work that would go into creating a shelter that the County would be able to use for years to come, including seismic upgrades, new heating and cooling systems, and roofing improvements. 

The facility would also need to accommodate a closed and private outdoor area for guests, as well as kitchen space, restrooms, classrooms, and parking for guests’ vehicles. 

Like all new adult-focused shelters the Joint Office has opened, the shelter will be 24-hour and low-barrier, meaning people can bring their pets and personal belongings.

Guests also will receive beds by reservation, and then be able to keep those beds as long as they need. Jolin said the shelter will serve people of all gender identities, and allow couples to stay together. The shelter would also prioritize beds for people coming from the surrounding neighborhoods and North Portland. 

Community feedback part of the project

Weiner also said the County will work with the Regional Arts and Culture Council to explore opportunities for beautifying the space, both for guests and the community. The Joint Office, working with architecture firm Carleton Hart, has begun convening a focus group of neighbors to talk through design and programming options.

“We are working closely with the local communities to get their input of what they’re looking for, and their concerns regarding the shelter,” Weiner said, “so that this becomes integrated with the community.”

Jolin and others thanked neighbors in Kenton and Arbor Lodge for their strong support. After the Joint Office met with North Portland community leaders in January, neighborhood leaders have helped shape educational materials, including a postcard and an FAQ, and hosted a community forum. 

Early layout options for the long-term version of the Arbor Lodge shelter, shown to the Board on Nov. 18, 2021.
“When we met this summer and broached the idea of opening a temporary shelter while the long-term work was ongoing, they didn’t hesitate in expressing their support,” Jolin said. “While there are understandable questions from some neighbors, the support for this project has really been tremendous.”

Commissioner Susheela Jayapal, whose district includes the shelter, also thanked the shelter’s neighbors — and praised the Joint Office for taking steps to engage them as it fills in a long-noted geographic gap in the County’s shelter system. 

“I am so appreciative of the community, so appreciative of the way they’ve come together. They had some apprehension, but they really came to the table,” she said. “Really, this was a great example of how we work with the community to get some of these things done.”

Jayapal also argued the cost of creating a long-lasting shelter site, something that could be used for many years, pencils out when compared to more-temporary facilities like managed campsites and villages.

Those sites might initially be cheaper, costing $1 million to $2 million to develop, she said. But they also aren’t typically meant to last as long as a purpose-built shelter. 

“To me,” she said, “this is an excellent investment.”