Multnomah Co. commissioners discuss Wapato Jail, other ideas for - KPTV - FOX 12

Multnomah Co. commissioners discuss Wapato Jail, other ideas for homeless

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PORTLAND, OR (KPTV) -

Emotions ran high during a public comment session Thursday as county commissioners got an update on the homeless crisis.

Marc Jolin with the office of homeless services said there was good news as the county will have opened six new shelters, more than doubling the current number of beds by the end of 2016.

Experts said 6,600 people have used an emergency shelter bed in Multnomah County this year.

However, Jolin said his office is pushing programs for rent assistance, employment support and more to help with prevention and long-term housing.

"A shelter isn't a place that people go to, it needs to be a place they go through,” he said. “It has to be successful in helping them end their homelessness, moving out of the shelter and into permanent housing."

Some people want better answers about emergency housing, though. While legal questions loom about Terminal One and a property in the Pearl, many are pointing to the Wapato Jail in north Portland that has been vacant for years as a possible shelter location.

It could house more than 500 people, and some estimates show that a shelter could be started there for a cost of $953,000.

However, some feel Wapato is demeaning and too far removed from necessary services.

“Now they're being asking to move to outer Siberia to a jail that looks like a jail and sounds like a jail," homeless advocate Trina Sutton said.

Commissioner Loretta Smith thinks Wapato is a viable option, saying the costs are “a small price to pay to service 523 people."

A vote on any one solution isn't in sight yet, but Smith said a discussion like the one Thursday is progress.

"This is the first time we've had a public forum on this particular issue and I think it's a great first start."

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