Community celebrates upcoming reopening of 120-person Willamette Center shelter

December 1, 2023

The Willamette Center serves 120 people, both couples and single adults.
The Willamette Center offers participants showers and laundry, along with on-site services.
On Nov. 30, about 50 community members, neighbors and service providers  gathered for a reopening celebration — and blanket drive — for the Willamette Resource Center, a 120-person shelter in southeast Portland owned by Multnomah County and operated by Transition Projects

The shelter, which first opened in 2016 and enjoyed community support ever since, has been closed since 2022 for needed renovations. The shelter is expected to begin welcoming participants — couples and women/non-binary people — before the end of 2023.  

“The grand reopening of the Willamette Center aligns with our collective vision of our community, where everyone feels seen, heard, and cared for,” said David Dugan, the president of the Sellwood-Moreland Improvement League (SMILE). “By providing a safe haven for our neighbors experiencing homelessness, we are not only meeting their immediate needs, but offering a pathway to a brighter future.”

When it opened, the Willamette Center played a key part in transforming how shelter services for adults are delivered in Multnomah County and Portland. The shelter was among the first to serve couples, allowing them to stay together and sleep next to one another, instead of having to separate into single-gender facilities.

The shelter also incorporated other changes that are now standard in the  government-supported shelter system led by the Joint Office of Homeless Services: It was open 24 hours instead of overnight only, and it accommodated pets and personal belongings. Those will remain true upon its reopening. Participants at the shelter will also have access to onsite case management, showers, laundry, and a hot dinner every night.

The County purchased the shelter property as part of a significant shelter expansion strategy that began in 2015-16. That expansion helped shelter inventory grow from more than 600 beds then to more than 2,000 beds, motel rooms and sleeping units today.

The all but concluded $2.5 million renovation project included seismic and electrical upgrades, HVAC updates, and improvements to the shelter's common areas. Staff and residents were relocated to other shelter programs before operations were paused.

Speakers at the reopening event celebrated the shelter’s return, emphasizing its importance in the community.

Multnomah County Chair Jessica Vega Pederson said shelters like Willamette Center play a key role in her vision for the County.

(From left) David Dugan, president of SMILE; Tony Bernal, CEO of Transition Projects; and Multnomah County Chair Jessica Vega Pederson.
“I believe in a county that is filled with opportunity, safety, health and belonging. One where homelessness is rare and brief, and people, no matter their race, age and income level, have homes they can afford,” she said. “One where shelter doesn’t mean having to make tough choices about the pets and the people you bring with you. One where people have the opportunity and support to take the next step in what their lives can become.”

“It is places like this that help turn this vision into reality,” she said.

Tony Bernal, CEO of Transition Projects, said he was especially grateful for the neighborhood’s support of the shelter, and encouraged the community to continue staying involved.

“I look forward to seeing each of you here cooking and serving meals, helping out where you can, and ultimately making this program a part of the community. As a part of the community, participants will be in the best position to take the next step in their housing journey,” Bernal said.

(To learn more about volunteering at a Transition Projects shelter, visit this webpage.)

Dugan, the SMILE president, highlighted the neighborhood’s continued support of the shelter. That includes a blanket drive that the neighborhood association organized in support of the shelter, going on now through Dec. 20, 2023. For more details, visit the SMILE website here.

Beds at the shelter can be requested by calling 503-280-4700, coming to the Transition Projects Resource Center at 650 NW Irving St. in Portland, or by filling out this online form: