PORTLAND, Oregon – After sitting empty for years, what was once Wapato Jail is now thriving as a homeless shelter and service center since October 2020, successfully helping homeless people get off the streets and stabilize. Until now, Bybee Lakes Hope Center largely did so without the financial support of taxpayers.
The North Portland facility is what is generally considered a “high barrier” shelter, where people cannot get walk-in beds; instead, they must be referred by one of the organization’s 80 partners. Residents must be clean and sober while living in the facility, follow the rules, and be responsible for their actions.
Alan Evans, founder and CEO of Helping Hands Reentry Outreach Centers, which operates Bybee Lakes as well as other shelters in Oregon, was homeless for 25 years.
“We believe that compassion and responsibility is what we want to invest in the people who live on our streets, in our communities, so that we can provide the best person when they return to our communities to be sustainable,” Evans said. .
On Wednesday, Bybee Lakes celebrated the completion of an expansion, creating enough room at the shelter for 318 people. The pandemic interrupted the initial construction plan and the shelter was operating with a capacity of approximately 126 people.
“We realize this expansion is extremely important to our communities,” Evans said.
The shelter functions as supportive transitional housing, with a visiting area for friends or family, a theater room and soon, medical and dental facilities and a daycare. Evans said Bybee Lakes is working on a partnership with OHSU to add on-site medical services. A large garden on the side of the building is filled with over 100 trees planted by residents. An industrial kitchen will also serve as a teaching area for food preparation and nutrition.
Under the Bybee Lakes model, people can stay for free for up to 60 days, sometimes longer if they need more time. After that, they are expected to find a job and pay $250 a month for their bed. Evans said about half of the residents have full-time jobs within a mile of the facility.
Evans said the price tag to convert Bybee Lakes into the space it is today was about $6 million and annual operating costs were about $2.4 million. He has come so far with private donors and public funding, but hopes local governments will finally step in and help.
“At the end of the day, this cannot work without a public and private partnership. It just can’t. Continually reaching out to our major donors and saying “Give us more so we can do…give us more so we can do…” is not sustainable.
Bybee Lakes recently applied for a $1 million grant from Multnomah County; whether they will receive it is still undecided. So far, the county has had a cold reception in Bybee Lakes.
“It’s not like we don’t want to work with them,” said Denis Thériault of the Joint Office for Homeless Services. “When we fund things, our model is low barrier. This is where we have decided that our funding is best targeted. We want to increase the number of places where people can go immediately and stay for a while if they need to.
A $1.2 million donation from United Way of the Columbia Willamette helped fund the recent expansion. The money was part of $20 million donated to the organization by billionaire philanthropist McKenzie Scott.
“It’s a model that works very well,” said Cindy Adams of United Way. “We need a continuum of services and programs in our community if we are to serve more people, and that requires intention and an understanding of how they should be served, the resources we have to serve them and to make decisions on these priorities. .”
In the meantime, Evans is proud that his establishment is growing and overcoming the many challenges he has faced along the way.
“Today we’re extremely grateful, extremely grateful to say that we finally made it to this building. People were saying it was impossible when we came to this community,” Evans said. “What we want to tell you is that anything is possible.”