Portland mayor reveals potential location for first of 6 new homeless shelters

The mayor says the city is also considering 400 potential sites on which to build affordable housing.
Published: Mar. 8, 2023 at 1:43 PM PST
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PORTLAND Ore. (KPTV) - Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler held a news conference Thursday detailing his plans to open new homeless shelters. It comes the day after he released a lengthy statement and video addressing homelessness, affordable housing, the mental health crisis and Oregon’s drug abuse problem.

Portland homeless statistics provided by the mayor's office.
Portland homeless statistics provided by the mayor's office.(Portland Mayor's Office)

Wheeler’s statement on Wednesday and news conference on Thursday were designed to announce six new shelters across the city that are intended to house and provide services to homeless people.

Mayor Wheeler said his goal is to ultimately eliminate “unsanctioned, unsheltered” camping in Portland, sooner rather than later, through the development of affordable housing and these new shelter sites.

SEE ALSO: Wheeler shoots back at Texas gov. on Twitter over Portland Walmart departures

Wheeler said the city council has already set aside $27 million for these six new shelter sites and he hopes the state and county will pitch in to help as well.

Three main steps the mayor's office intends to take to address homelessness in Portland....
Three main steps the mayor's office intends to take to address homelessness in Portland. Announced on Thurs. March 9, 2023.(Portland Mayor's Office)

The mayor’s office created a new website that goes in depth on the plan to build the new shelters.

About Temporary Alternative Shelter Sites

The mayor’s office intends for the new shelters to be a “safe, secure, and hygienic place for residents to meaningfully connect with services to access housing, mental health support, substance use disorder treatment and other critical resources.” Wheeler said, to start, each site will have up to 100 tents (for up to 150 people). City Council must approve an additional 100 people (for up to 250 people), after the first phase is developed.

Site Services:

  • Meals: Two per day, plus snack
  • Restrooms and showers
  • Laundry access
  • Community space
  • Pet area
  • Storage
  • Transit/Transportation
  • Electricity (i.e., for phone charging)
  • Wi-fi
  • Perimeter fencing
  • Regular trash collection and hazardous waste removal

Service Provider:

These sites will be managed by a professional service provider with experience in managing large shelters.

  • Service provider will manage 24/7 with approximately 15/1 staff/client ratio.
  • Using a Built For Zero client-centered public health approach to guide clients through the continuum of care.
  • Referral-based system through the City of Portland, no walk-ins allowed.
  • To start, there will be no strict time limit regarding length of stay.
  • Service provider will coordinate (with designated City staff) physical, behavioral, and mental health visits from Multnomah County staff and other partners.

Key site rules:

  • Alcohol and drugs cannot be consumed in common areas/public spaces.
  • No cooking or fires are allowed.


  • Weapons must be checked at the entrance (zero tolerance policy).
  • If an individual needs to be excluded from a site because a person is a clear / present danger to themselves or others, removal options will include the PPB Behavioral Health Unit and Portland Street Response.

Perimeter Area:

  • 24/7 hotline staffed by service provider for complaints or questions about the site or perimeter issues.
  • On-site service provider will patrol a 1,000 ft. perimeter surrounding the site 16 hours a day, every day - no drugs or camping.
  • Trash cleanup in the 1,000 ft. perimeter (at least weekly; hazardous material removed immediately).
  • Service provider will engage regularly with surrounding residents, clients, businesses, neighborhood associations, and Enhanced Service Districts.


  • Parking for large camps will be limited. The ideal sites are serviced by transit. Parking by clients will not be allowed within 1,000 feet perimeter of camp.
  • One of the sites may include RV / car options.

Where will these sites be located?

Wheeler said the sites would be spread out across the city, with the goal of being near public transit. However, the mayor’s office said some of their real estate conversations are currently confidential.

The mayor’s office said each site will feature a 1,000 ft. perimeter zone that will feature a camping ban and be regularly patrolled by contracted security services. A Good Neighbor Agreement will also be established with the surrounding neighborhoods and business districts.

The mayor’s office said one of the locations will likely be at 1490 SE Gideon Street in the Central East Side between the Brooklyn and Hosford-Abernathy neighborhoods.

Proposed Portland homeless shelter location on SE Gideon Street. Announced Thurs. March 9, 2023.
Proposed Portland homeless shelter location on SE Gideon Street. Announced Thurs. March 9, 2023.(Portland Mayor's Office)

Who’s managing the shelters?

The mayor’s office said the California-based Urban Alchemy non-profit will likely manage operations and security for Portland’s new shelter sites. Urban Alchemy currently runs several sites in California and one in Texas.

Community conversations

Wheeler said they will hold community meetings with the neighbors living around the proposed SE Gideon Street site to hear people’s concerns and answer their questions.

Why not just build affordable housing?

The mayor’s office said affordable housing is the end goal but the shelters are a necessary first step in that process.

Portland currently has a housing gap of 20,000 units. The mayor’s plan calls for greatly increasing the production of affordable housing and he said the city is working on various projects to meet this goal and will also be working in partnership with the State on the potential resources that will support affordable housing development.

Mayor Wheeler’s full statement addressing homelessness and the need for shelters:

“One of the most challenging issues facing Portland today is our homeless crisis. Homelessness is a complex issue with many causes, requiring multiple solutions. I want to talk to you about the intersection between homelessness, behavioral health, and substance use disorder.

First, some context. How big is the problem?

According to the 2022 official point in time count, thousands of people are living unsheltered on our streets, and unsheltered homelessness in Portland increased by 50% from 2019 to 2022. Far too many in our city are living in dangerous and squalid conditions. This is nothing short of a humanitarian catastrophe for our unsheltered neighbors, and it also creates public health, safety and livability concerns for the entire community.

Let me be clear, there is nothing humane about the situation on Portland’s streets. And that’s why 94% of Portlanders identify homelessness as their top issue. Our collective goal should be to eliminate unsanctioned, unsheltered camping in Portland. To do that, we need a workable, and compassionate, means to connect people to whatever services they need to get off and stay off the streets. This could be shelter, housing, treatment, workforce training and other services.

Currently there are hundreds of unsanctioned camps spread out across virtually every neighborhood of our city, over a massive 146 square mile area. This makes it impossible to hire enough outreach workers to meaningfully connect people to services, including shelter. And due to the current dispersed nature of the homeless population, there’s no way to provide the kind of consistent case management or follow-up required to successfully connect people to the services they need. According to the Oregonian, 95% of the people experiencing homeless they surveyed indicated that they had never been approached by an outreach worker or offered any services.

The status quo is not a compassionate response. Leaving vulnerable Portlanders to live outside in the elements in dangerous conditions poses issues to both the individual experiencing homelessness and the community. There is overwhelming evidence that the homeless face incredible danger on the streets. A report recently found that 20% of all homicide victims in 2021 were homeless. The Multnomah County Health Department found that at least 193 homeless individuals died in 2021, a 53% increase over the prior year. Furthermore, they found the average age of death among homeless men to be 48, and among women 46. That is more than three decades younger than the average life expectancy in the United States. Between 2019 and 2021, Portland Fire & Rescue responded to over 2,500 fires in homeless encampments. Sadly, 31% of Portland’s fire deaths in 2021 were those in the unhoused population. The safety of both people living on the streets and our broader community is at risk.

What’s driving the homeless issue in Portland and how do we address it? People are homeless for many different reasons. Research suggests that the lack of affordable housing is the key driver, and the provision of that housing cannot be overlooked as a strategy to preventing and ending homelessness. But the intersections between homelessness, substance use, and behavioral health issues complicates the situation for many.

Substance Use Disorder

Many assume that people become homeless because they use drugs or have untreated behavioral health issues. The truth is much more complex than that. It is bi-directional. While some people undoubtedly become homeless because of drug use or mental health issues, the vast majority are homeless first, and then begin using drugs or developing behavioral health issues late

Let’s talk about drugs in Portland. In 2020, Oregon voters passed Measure 110 to become the first state in the nation to decriminalize personal possession of drugs. Measure 110 was also intended to provide significant new resources for desperately needed drug treatment programs. While I support the intent of Measure 110, the funding has been extremely slow to be deployed and the state’s drug treatment infrastructure continues to fail despite efforts of many people in the treatment community. Making matters worse, two relatively new, cheap, and widely available synthetic drugs are wreaking havoc in Portland and across the country.

The first is P2P Meth, sometimes called the “new meth.” This is insidious stuff. It can cause severe psychosis, brain damage, and anti-social behaviors including violent outbursts, destructive behavior, and extreme paranoia. Oregon has the highest meth use rates in the United States. In 2021, Meth contributed to nearly half of all homeless deaths in Multnomah County.

The second synthetic drug, Fentanyl, may be even worse, and our community is awash in it. It is cheaper and more potent than heroin. According to the Multnomah County Medical Examiner, fentanyl overdoses in Portland increased 588% over a recent two-year period. Across all age groups, Oregon’s fentanyl death rate grew by almost 500% from 2019-2021. Oregon leads the nation in the growth of youth fentanyl deaths rate, with deaths for kids ages 15-19 increasing over 900% between 2019 and 2021. Yet Oregon only has four youth treatment programs, all with months-long waiting lists.

We’ve seen the damage that fentanyl can cause. Just a few weeks ago a man intoxicated by some combination of alcohol, cannabis and fentanyl attacked a 78-year-old man and caused extensive harm as he was experiencing a mental health crisis reaction to the substances. Recently, the Portland Police and the DEA made an arrest where they confiscated 2 kilos and 30,000 fentanyl pills. According to experts, this is enough fentanyl to kill 1 million people. And it’s not even the largest amount confiscated. Eugene police recently recovered 8 kilos in a drug operation.

My own personal view is that when outside players transport substances through our communities with the intent to harm or kill millions of Americans there is a name for this. Weapon of mass destruction. I appreciate that many in our federal government are starting to see it as such. Another side effect of these increasingly prevalent drugs worth noting is an unwillingness to be in enclosed spaces. Enclosed spaced like congregate shelters, motel rooms, or housing of any kind. The bottom line is that synthetic drugs are complicating the solutions required to successfully address homelessness.

Behavioral Health

When it comes to behavioral health issues, the story isn’t much better. Oregon is routinely listed among the top states in terms of mental health treatment needs, but consistently ranks near, or at, the bottom of states when it comes to delivering needed services. The last list I saw put us at 49th out of 50 states. Our behavioral health systems are failing us all, but they hit the homeless population especially hard. 40% of homeless individuals tell us that they have either a significant drug use disorder or an untreated and disabling behavioral health issue. 20% tell us they have both. Oregon has an unfortunate history of under-investing in affordable housing, behavioral health and substance use treatment. And now we are seeing the results. The lack of critical services at the state, county and local level is why we have struggled to help people get off the streets.


Now it’s up to us to act to turn things around, and that’s what I am doing in my capacity as mayor. Continued innovation is the ONLY way we will make progress on the intersection between homelessness, substance use, and behavioral health issues.

Here is part of what we are doing. You have likely heard about the five resolutions recently brought to, and approved by, the city council. I want to explain to you the goals of these resolutions. They serve as a roadmap for the revitalization of Portland.

To put it simply, our homelessness plan consists of three building blocks.

The three building blocks are:

  • First, a significant investment in affordable housing,
  • Second, moving the unsheltered homeless closer to safety and services,
  • And third, the creation of a criminal justice referral system that incentivizes those with a criminal history to seek housing, services, and/or treatment.

Regarding affordable housing, we are working with our state partners to increase tax abatements and deferrals to make more affordable housing projects pencil out. We are asking the state legislature to allow us to use urban renewal areas to create more affordable housing. And locally, we are identifying up to 400 shovel ready sites owned by the city of Portland that could be used for affordable housing.

We need over 20,000 units of housing just in the Portland area to close the affordability gap. It took years to grow this gap, and we must act now to reverse it. Regarding bringing services closer to people who need them, rather than trying to deploy services to hundreds of unsanctioned encampments, we are creating a limited number of larger Temporary Alternative Shelter Sites across the city that could provide navigation to drug treatment, healthcare, mental health services, job training and other services. This is an idea that was created with direct input from people with lived experience.

The city council has already committed $27 million to our alternative shelter site concept, and we hope that the state and Multnomah County will work with us to deliver these critical services. And while we are seeking to reduce and ultimately eliminate problematic unsanctioned campsites across the city, we are NOT seeking to criminalize homelessness. Rather, we are working with the DA and others to create a referral program into services that could allow people to expunge older warrants.

Some have criticized this approach. They argue that funds should only go toward the so-called housing first model and prioritize housing, not the alternative shelter approach. I want to be clear, I support building affordable housing. And in no way will I ever endorse a policy that criminalizes poverty. I believe in acting to immediately help those left to linger on our streets. When I say this, I mean today, NOW. Not next year or five years from now.

Every day that people live unsheltered on the streets they are exposed to drugs, potential behavioral health issues, and dangerous criminal elements. Some would have us leave our fellow Portlanders on the streets. I cannot, in good conscious, ignore people to suffer on the streets.

According to a study conducted by Home Forward, we know that people living unsheltered on our streets are waiting years, sometimes more than five, for affordable housing. We need to act now to save lives and reduce harm. We can both create more affordable housing options AND provide immediate services to those who are struggling to survive on the streets.

Finally, I must make it clear that cities across America are struggling with these same issues. Portland is by no means alone. This means we need the federal, state and county governments to work with us to address the complexities of homelessness. In short, I believe we will offer a bold new direction to Portland. This is what Portlanders want. And no city, certainly not Portland, can wait any longer.”


Homeless Multnomah County resident deaths surge 53% in 2021 | Street Roots

False promises: 95% of unsheltered Portlanders said city workers didn’t offer shelter before camp sweeps - oregonlive.com

N Portland fire along I-5 was third homeless tent fire in 1 day, officials say (koin.com)

download (portland.gov) (Fire data)

Voter polling released and homelessness/crime remain top (portlandalliance.com) PBA Polling

Homelessness is the most important issue for Portland-area voters, Oregonian/OregonLive poll finds - oregonlive.com (94% number)

Mayor Wheeler releases data on average wait time for many subsidized affordable housing units | Portland.gov (Housing Waitlist Data)

Oregon Overdose Landscape - Presentation from Jan 2023 on Fentanyl Deaths/Including Youth

Ranking the States 2022 | Mental Health America (mhanational.org) Mental Health Rankings

2021.Oregon.NSDUH.Highlights.Final.pdf - Google Drive Meth Rate / Mental Health Rankings

588% Fentanyl Overdose Number is from Multnomah County Medical Examiner