The Big Plan: Williams Takes Case for Terminal 1 to Public
Can the community rally behind a big tent vision uniting the private and public sectors, faith community, social service sector and philanthropists?
That’s the question posed by Homer Williams, the developer proposing a mammoth homeless shelter at Terminal 1 on Northwest Front Avenue.
“I think people are really trying to come to grips and do the right thing,” Williams of Williams & Dame Development Inc. said. “This can get done.”
At a contentious Aug. 10 meeting, the Portland City Council voted 3-2 to move forward with the concept’s first phase, which involves creating a temporary
shelter underwritten primarily by the private sector.
Critics, including neighborhood activists, have questions about safety, transportation and local impact. Many wonder how the whole idea has moved forward with little grassroots involvement. Williams and his partner Dike Dame have been working with city and county officials, different nonprofits and consultants who helped create Haven for Hope, the San Antonio model the proposal is based on. They have visited the San Antonio program several times, at least once with Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury.
“Our current homelessness crisis is not a problem for government to solve alone,” Wheeler said.
Plans for the first step toward a program called Oregon Trail of Hope will be presented in a public forum for the first time Wednesday, Sept. 14 at 10a.m. and 6p.m. at Ecotrust, 721 NW Ninth Ave.
“People need to know we’re not suddenly going to open the door for 400 homeless people,” Williams said. “They have every right to know what’s going on.”
In August, the Examiner asked local stakeholders—people who live, work, own property or shop in the neighborhood around the hulking, decaying warehouse—for their thoughts. Their reactions were diverse, far from uniformly critical.
“Why not?” asked Edgar Garcia, 24, a construction worker taking a break from his duties on the Rivage Apartments complex just south of Terminal 1. “That’ll be good.”
Lee Novak, vice president at Fore Property Co., the national developer behind Rivage, described his company’s reaction as disappointment.
“They haven’t taken the time to examine the impacts on the neighborhood,” Novak said. “For example, nobody’s said if there will be additional police. What type of security will be provided?”
Local carpenter Brian Keith, who works a block away, couldn’t be more
“That sounds great,” Keith said. “If they were going to turn [Terminal 1] into more expensive housing, that would really suck.”
“I want Portland to be livable for all kinds of people. If we can find ways that people can get housing and services, I’m all for it.”
The manager of a Kitchen Kaboodle warehouse in the same building sounded sympathetic but concerned.
John Stuhr, 59, said homeless people that congregate near his customer
pickup area sometimes cause discomfort for those customers.
Stuhr also worries someone could get hurt.
“Trains bust through here all the time,” he said, eyeing the railroad
tracks leading to Union Station. “That’s more of a safety concern.”
Stuhr then joked about a return to the hobo trains of long ago.
Inside two RVs parked nearby, next to a tent perched strangely on top of a modular freight container, Bobby Miller and T.J. Johnson, a longshoreman who said he was injured at work, agreed it would be nice to have a place to go, particularly if there were RV parking.
“We need places with [parking for] motor homes,” said Miller, 35. “We just shoot around. We got to move every 24 hours.” Their vehicles were both gone a day after the Aug. 17 interview.
Staff at the International Longshoremen & Warehouse Union Local 8 across the street from Terminal 1 declined to give names that day, but said their union’s main focus around the Terminal 1 plan is security. The ILWU currently deals with theft, discarded needles and human feces in its environs, they said, as well as “constant” requests for water. An emailed request for a statement was
Carley Scoggin, who was visiting a nearby marijuana dispensary, said it’s too bad homeless people don’t have better options than being “warehoused” in a place near fast traffic, busy train tracks and with limited bus service.
“It’s kind of like dropping people in the middle of nowhere,” Scoggin said.
A Rivage resident sounded far from enthralled.
“My concern is there’s no plan for anything,” said Reid Block, 45. “What happens if people show up and they’re at capacity? How will they handle that?”
Block showed a reporter two small homeless camps in the riverine area about 20 feet from the apartment complex. He said that a pier behind the Rivage could be a choice spot for an unauthorized homeless camp.
“Property values are going to drop,” he said.
The president of the adjacent business association said the area should remain dedicated for industrial job creation.
“Our main concern is that land is protected under the Guild’s Lake Industrial Sanctuary Plan,” said Danielle Johnson, president of the Northwest Industrial Neighborhood Association.
Johnson added that using Terminal 1 as a shelter could impact the Sulzer Pumps US Inc. property to its immediate north. She contends the two properties together, in the current hot market, can support from 400 to 1,500 family-wage industrial jobs.
She “can’t speak as much to why that space has been vacant for 15 years.”
The Northwest District Association, whose boundaries encompass Terminal 1, has been reluctant to address the issue. NWDA President Karen Karlsson rebuffed a request from Williams to host a public meeting on the proposed shelter.
“It’s going to be very controversial,” Karlsson said, “and I don’t want to be in [the middle of it].”
Noting that the proposed shelter has three votes on City Council and “it might get thrown down our throats,” she said it may be prudent for the association to get accommodation on how it is operated rather than trying to block its creation.
Industrial interest low
Williams doesn’t buy the idea that industry is champing at the bit for the Terminal 1 space, citing proposals received by the city last month.
“Well, you’ve got to look at the offers,” he said. “One’s a Costco, another one wants a zone change to residential, so that’s going to go nowhere. I don’t see any industrial jobs coming out of that thing.”
Williams said the fully realized homeless campus could provide 300 jobs on site, at least three times the number who have ever worked at Terminal 1 at any one time.
Williams said he and collaborators, including Marc Jolin of A Home for Everyone, Bill Russell, the executive director of Union Gospel Mission, and Ibrahim Mubarak, founder of Dignity Village and Right 2 Dream Too, hope to have regular van shuttles to and from the downtown core, driven by volunteers. Williams said it’s not perfect, but he’s open to suggestions.
“We can build a comparable facility [to Haven for Hope] for $60
million,” Williams said. By doing it as a nonprofit rather than through government, he said, significant private sector contributions can be leveraged, and construction costs contained.
“Don’t ask me how to run something like this,” he said, noting that he’ll hand
it off to experts like Jolin. “What we can do is get it built, in an affordable, reasonable way.” Williams said he already has “soft commitments” for almost half of the $60 million. “I don’t think money will be the issue. Now, you’ve got to have operating funds. That’s always where these things get hard.”
His primary opponent has been City Commissioner Nick Fish, who oversees the Bureau of Environmental Services, which owns Terminal 1. His attempt to sell the property last month was overridden by City Council’s vote to pursue the shelter option. Williams said the scope of the metro area’s homeless problem was made clear to all Portlanders by Mayor Charlie Hales’ recently rescinded Safe Sleep policy, suggesting that conventional programs and approaches aren’t up to the task.
Williams paints Fish as offering no solutions to the city’s housing crisis.
“If he’s got a better idea,” said Williams, “it would be good if he would share it.”
The above is the cover story for October 2016’s NW Examiner, nwexaminer.com.