Commissioner renews call to use vacant Portland jail as homeless - KPTV - FOX 12

Commissioner renews call to use vacant Portland jail as homeless shelter

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Wapato Jail in North Portland (KPTV) Wapato Jail in North Portland (KPTV)

A Multnomah County commissioner is renewing a call to use a jail that never opened as a homeless shelter.

The Wapato Jail in north Portland was built over a decade ago, but funding to run it never developed, so it never began operations.

On Monday, Multnomah County Commissioner Loretta Smith, along with some city residents, called on other leaders to reconsider selling the over 155,000-square-foot jail to a developer.

Her pitch is to instead convert it to a shelter for those who are homeless.

“Not one person standing here sees this facility as a jail," Smith said.

The facility, which is already equipped with conference rooms and beds, would allow for an easy transition, Smith said. The commissioner also suggested a surrounding barbed wire fence could be taken down, and local artists could be invited in to create more color.

"Is Wapato the only location that would work for a large-scale, congregate living shelter? No. But currently, it is the only one in front of us and it must be carefully considered as a viable, short-term solution,” Smith said.

Under Smith's suggested plan, service providers would be offered to those in need on site. She also proposed using the lot's 18 acres as potential space for those who wish to camp instead of stay inside the facility.

Multiple deals with developers for the jail have fallen through over the years. Last November, Multnomah County commissioners approved the sale of jail to a Portland developer for $11 million. Last week, the developer returned with a counter-offer.

On Tuesday, the commission is set to review that proposal in an executive session. Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury said if commissioners decide to consider the counter-offer, they will do so at a regularly scheduled public board meeting. 

For now, Kafoury said in a statement Monday, the county is taking no further action on Wapato or entertaining any new offers. 

“We need to give our entire five-person board the chance to hear and talk about the offer,'' Kafoury said. "And, we need to give the business owner, who put money down and conducted due diligence, to have that offer considered without being disparaged. We all want to find a useful future for Wapato, but we need to give this offer a fair hearing. I look forward to our conversation tomorrow.’’

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