Neighbors have mixed reactions to proposed homeless shelter in SE Portland

The site of a proposed homeless shelter on SE Foster & 61st.

A new homeless shelter will likely open in southeast Portland this fall, but the plan has some neighbors divided.

Multnomah County commissioners are expected to move forward with signing the lease Thursday morning for a vacant building on Southeast 61st Avenue and Foster Road. The site used to be a grocery store, and plans call for it to become a homeless shelter serving 100-120 people.

County leaders tell FOX 12 they’ve done everything they should do in selecting the site and notifying neighbors, but some people who live in the area disagree.

“I’m a homeowner who lives a block away from the shelter site, and never once have I received an email or a letter talking about the shelter or what it will be,” Alyssum Gilbert told FOX 12.

Gilbert is especially concerned about the proposed shelter being near a high school, and is also worried about an increase in drug use and crime.

“My house was broken into in August, my car was stolen, so I’m a victim of burglary and I feel like we’re a high crime area already,” she said. “We do our best as a community to come together, but to add to that, and I will say to add to that, a low-barrier shelter does no one good, and I believe there would be a better location somewhere else.”

County leaders notified neighborhood chairs of the proposal on Dec. 8 and a large community meeting was held 10 days later.

While commissioners may sign off on the location this week, plans for exactly how the shelter will operate will still take some time to sort out.

It’s a process Denis Theriault from the Joint Office of Homeless Services hopes neighbors and other stakeholders continue to be involved in.

“We’ve had about 6 weeks where folks have known about this, and how it’s going and where it’s going to be, and then we’ve got another 8-9 months before the shelter opens and we want neighbors to help us craft what the shelter looks like and how it operates,” Theriault said.

Another homeless shelter recently opened in the Sellwood-Moreland neighborhood in November 2016. Theriault said the response from the community and neighborhood association has been positive.

A letter written by resident Eric Norberg said there was initial apprehension, but “we listened, as you described the operation and made some clear promises about its operation. A year later, it is clear you have kept those promises and that the Sellwood-Moreland neighborhood has become very supportive of the shelter… I live four blocks or so from the shelter myself, and have observed NO problems at all.”

As the details continue to come together, some neighbors in the Powell-Foster area are in support of the new shelter.

“I think we need 100 more shelters just like this around the city, so I’m really happy if my neighborhood can be one that’s very welcoming,” said neighbor and former Portland mayoral candidate Sarah Iannarone. “I think the biggest thing is fear… I had the good fortune of volunteering with a lot of homeless people and volunteering with people in shelters, and I think until you’re close to them it’s really easy to confuse being homeless with being a criminal.”

To learn more about the proposal, visit

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