Multnomah County homeless service providers hope for change

PORTLAND, Ore. (KGW) — It was nearing week three of Myrna Gardiner’s time at the Bybee Lakes Hope Center in North Portland. She sat on the chair of her walker in the parking lot to get some space, she said, from the hustle and bustle inside the large jail-turned-homeless shelter.

“I came in from Texas,” she told KGW. “I was couch hopping for a while and then I ran out of couches.”

With help from the center’s staff, she’s now working on finding permanent housing.

“They help you find places to look at, they can put you to work, help you get work,” she explained.

It’s all part of the long-term re-entry program at Bybee Lakes that needs financial support from the county in order to be sustainable, according to program founder Alan Evans.

“We’ve been offered the opportunity to receive some money from the county, and when we looked into it, they wanted us to change our model to do it,” Evans said. “And we’re not willing to change what we know works.”

However, the shelter requirements needed in order to qualify for county funds could change based on new leadership at the county level. The county’s new board chair, Jessica Vega Pederson, told KGW in a statement they will consider every shelter option — including Bybee Lakes.

And there’s money to spend. A recent report shows Multnomah County has more than $46 million left over from the Supportive Housing Services fund that voters passed in 2020.

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“It’s extremely frustrating to know that at the end of the year, there’s so many millions of dollars left over,” Evans said. “And we’re saying, ‘We want to help, we’re on your team, but we need your help to provide that service,’ and they would rather end the year with money not spent than give us the opportunity to do our job.”

“What Bybee Lakes is asking for and what we and other nonprofits have been asking for is some public consideration for the gaps we’re filling,” echoed Scott Kerman, executive director of Blanchet House in Old Town.

Blanchet House’s budget has tripled over the last three years, and they’re known for serving three hot meals a day to those in need. On Tuesday, their dining room was nearly full during lunch.

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“For whatever reason — and nobody seems to know the reason — our hot-prepared meal service has never really qualified for funding,” Kerman said.

The hot meals make up more than a third of their $3 million budget.

“We could use some help with that,” Kerman said.

The services at Blanchet House go beyond just food and shelter, they also save lives. In the past two months, the staff has revived more than a dozen people overdosing outside their doors.

“It makes me sad because there are people who have really significant needs right now,” Kerman said.

People with significant needs like Myrna, who said she would be on the street if it weren’t for Bybee Lakes shelter.

“That’s someplace I don’t want to be so I’ll take this place to the street compared to what’s on the street,” Myrna said.

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