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Together, We Can End Unsheltered Homelessness

Our  Priorities

Our priorities have been developed based on Portland's 150 years of experience and history with homelessness. The Timeline (jump to link) connects our past with the present and is both the foundation and the explanation for our priorities. We aim to work linearly and with a laser-like focus to immediately end unsheltered homelessness in Portland. 


Our Leadership Council and Board of Directors (jump to link) have traveled across the nation and the world to bring back the best examples and systems to begin to heal our community. These priorities have been refined after thousands of conversations with Portlanders, including those who have lived experience with homelessness and regional, state, and national leaders. 


These priorities have been frequently tested, failed, refined, and retested before implementation. They are not exhaustive but designed to address the humanitarian crisis in Portland with a 'Disaster Recovery' response to immediately care for all Portlanders – the unsheltered homeless, housed residents, and small and large business owners – and to restore livability and community safety. 

Priority #1

Nighttime Walk In
Emergency Shelter

Unsheltered homelessness has never been the norm in Portland. 

In the 1890s, Portland had our nation’s largest homeless population, yet few, if any, people lived unsheltered. (link to timeline 1890s). 

In the 1990s, Portland, lauded as our nation’s leader (link to timeline 1980s) in caring for our homeless, employed nighttime emergency shelters to ensure no person was forced to sleep unsheltered. 


Regrettably, in 2017, the City/County Joint Office of Homeless Services (City/County JOHS), taking over the management of shelters, which until then had been managed by the City of Portland, implemented a completely new set of shelter guidelines. (link to timeline JOHS) 

2017 City/County Changes in the Sheltering Guidelines:

One of the first changes made by the City/County JOHS, the new agency overseeing Portland’s response to homelessness, was to convert most emergency shelters from nighttime only to 24 hours a day. City/County JOHS tripled their expenses without adding one shelter bed.

“There is no regulatory requirement from HUD or any other federal agency that shelters must operate 24/7. The cost of doing so is understandably very expensive. It requires three 8-hour shifts rather than one.”


Mark Johnston, Appointed President Obama’s Assistant Secretary to Reduce Homelessness and Shelter Portland’s Leadership Council member

Stay limits Removed: Stay limits to encourage folks to engage in services to help them move out of the emergency shelter and into housing were removed and replaced with a 24-month stay limit. Also, there were low or no expectations of actively participating in addressing a person’s root cause of homelessness.

“Contractor shall not require participation in services as a condition of remaining in the shelter program.”

City/County Joint Office of Homeless Services homeless service provider contract requirement 

Walk-Ins No Longer Allowed: Additionally, prior to 2017, most emergency shelters were available on an emergency walk-in basis. In the new City/County JOHS shelter guidelines, walk-ins were no longer allowed, and a reservation-only system restricted entry. Now, on a person’s worst day and time of crisis, they are required, with many of our unsheltered struggling from mental illness and substance use, to make a reservation and then wait up to 28 days to gain entry. 


Shelters Not Complying Denied Funding: And tragically, emergency shelters that served our community for decades, but did not meet these new guidelines were defunded (link to timeline S.A.F.E.S.) or new operators trying to respond to our homelessness, behavioral health, and addiction crisis (link to timeline ByBee Lakes) were not funded at all. 


And worse yet, in a cruel response to our skyrocketing unsheltered crisis, the City/County JOHS now hands out thousands of tents and tarps each year.

All this in the middle of a City of Portland declared housing and homelessness emergency. 


These changes and others have contributed to Portland having the highest per capita unsheltered rate in the nation, not including six cities in California. 

Today, 4000 Portlanders are living unsheltered.
400 of our homeless will die this year.

Instead of making shelter difficult to obtain, Shelter Portland makes it as easy, straightforward, and available as possible. Our shelters are located throughout the city and welcome walk-ins. The shelter network we are building is going to be flexible and has the capacity to handle those who need it. No one is forced to sleep on the streets.


We achieve this by rapidly providing enough nighttime emergency shelters (staffed, rented, and repurposed trauma-informed existing facilities [e.g., community centers, churches, businesses]) to shelter every unsheltered person in Portland. 


Our emergency shelters are nighttime only, low cost, proven, and centuries old method to care for our community and can be arranged in a matter of months.

How It Works

Partner with Organizations Who Have Unused Space 

Buildings that are not being utilized at night, such as community centers and churches are “flipped” from their day use to nightly shelters. Building owners are compensated for the use of their space for a win/win scenario.  

Trained Staff 

We partner and staff our shelters with professionals and people with lived experience from Portland’s homeless service agencies to ensure a safe and welcoming environment with a focus on a safe night’s sleep. We support this staff with neighborhood volunteers helping their neighbors.

Day Shelters

While our nighttime emergency shelters focus on providing the basic needs of Safety, Security, Shelter and Sleep, Shelter Portland’s Day Shelters serve as a warm hand off from night to day to provide the link to Services, the fifth “S”, to remove barriers so we can then house our homeless.

Why It Works


No capital or construction is required. By utilizing existing buildings, emergency nighttime shelters can be set up and begin serving our community in days. For example, our North Portland shelter was planned, funded, and operational in 90 days. Also, all our shelters are located near transit corridors.

Clean, Safe &
Trauma Informed

Nighttime emergency shelters are open 365 days a year, providing a safe and clean space for people to spend the night. People can be warm in the winter, dry in the fall and spring, and cool in the summer. Shelters are tailored to the different needs of the population and community they serve.

Low Cost

At less than $17 per person per night, pop-up shelters are one tenth the cost of a Safe Rest Village alternative shelter and one half the cost of permanent supportive housing. It’s a low-cost way to end unsheltered homelessness and focus our funding on building more affordable housing, the solution to homelessness.

Who It Works For

All Shelter Portland’s emergency shelters are nighttime only with hours generally from 9 pm to 7 am. 

Two nighttime emergency shelter program types to choose from:

Low-Barrier Shelter:

A First Step

Doors are always open, and guests can exit and re-enter throughout the night.


All adults are welcome as there are no conditions for entry. Sobriety is not required but drugs or alcohol are not allowed in the facility.


With unchecked growth in Portland’s unsheltered homeless population, two thirds of these souls have lived on the streets for over a year and often suffer from one or more of mental illness, addiction, or physical disability. Often these individuals need extra support as they transition from survival mode to a more structured environment, and these low-barrier shelters provide a higher level of care, safety, and security for these souls on their journey to housing.

Medium-Barrier Shelter:

A Bridge to Recovery

Doors close at 11pm and exit and reentry is not allowed after this time.


All adults are welcome as there are no conditions for entry. Sobriety is not required but drugs or alcohol are not allowed in the facility.


53% of Portland’s homeless will work the next day. Medium barrier shelters ensure guests are rested and ready for their next work shift or step towards permanent housing. 


This shelter is a better fit for a person recently homeless, released from detox or prison to remove them one step away from a low-barrier shelter where entry and exit is not restricted.

This public safety resource requires no reservation, and a bed will always be available.


Any previous night stay at a shelter guarantees a bed tonight at the same facility. No worries if this is your first night and the shelter is full. When we are fully operational, we will always have a bed for you at one of our other nighttime emergency shelters. And friends (human or pet) and families (biological or street) can sleep next to one another to ensure their support group stays together.

No one in Portland will sleep outside TONIGHT in unsafe, unsanitary, or dangerous conditions.

Nighttime Emergency Shelters vs. The Alternatives

Comparing Shelter Portland Nighttime Emergency Shelters vs. The Alternatives

Will it work?

Yes, It Works! Nighttime emergency shelters are operating and saving lives tonight.

Spotlight: Portsmouth Union Church

4775 N Lombard St, Portland, OR 97203

  • Shelter Type: Low Barrier

  • Facility rent payment per month: $4,000

  • Shelter operator: All Good Northwest

  • Shelter operations funded by: Joint Office of Homeless Services

  • Operating Time Frame: January 1, 2024 to March 31, 2024

  • Hours of operations: Nightly, 8:30 pm to 6:00 am

  • Bed capacity: 50 guests per night

  • Guest to Staff Ratio: 10:1

  • Cost per person per night: $38.02

Portsmouth Union Church
Portsmouth Union Church
Church of Nazarene Shelter
Client at Church of Nazarene Shelter

Spotlight: Church of Nazarene

9715 SE Powell Blvd, Portland, OR 97266

  • Shelter Type: Medium Barrier

  • Shelter Portland rent payment per month: $4,000

  • Shelter operator: Union Gospel Mission

  • Shelter operations funded by: Union Gospel Mission

  • First night of operations: November 1, 2023

  • Hours of operations: Nightly, 9pm to 7am

  • Bed capacity: 45 guests per night

  • Guest to Staff Ratio: 23:1

  • Cost per person per night: $16.30

Spotlight: Freedom Foursquare Church

660 SE 160th Ave, Portland, OR 97233

  • Shelter Type: Medium Barrier

  • Shelter Portland rent payment per month: $4,000

  • Shelter operator: In Development 

  • Shelter operations funded by:

  • First night of operations: In Development

  • Hours of operations: Nightly, 9pm to 7am

  • Bed capacity: +/- 45 guests per night

  • Cost per person per night: TBD

Freedom Foursquare Church

Matt Huff, executive director of Shelter Portland, and David Pouli, pastor at Freedom Foursquare 

Freedom Foursquare Church

Matt Huff, executive director of Shelter Portland 

Once fully operationalized, anyone who wants emergency shelter can now get it. The streets will never be the bottom rung on the housing ladder or a destination for any community member again. 


Tents and makeshift structures, shopkeepers’ doorways, inoperable, unlicensed, uninsured cars, RVs, trailers, and boats will no longer be needed as a person’s primary residence with ample beds available each night for every Portlander. 


Our community safety laws (camping, vehicle licensing, sanitation) can now be enforced. 


Every resident and public safety official, police officer, firefighter, Portland Street Response, outreach worker, will be able to say to a homeless person without a roof: 

"We want to support you. What does that look like? But you can't stay here."


Mary Simons, executive director of Open Doors Homeless Coalition, Gulf Coast, Mississippi

And be armed with resources to refer and ensure that a person’s basic need for shelter is guaranteed. Our community will no longer be helpless. 


The quality of life, livability, and dignity for every Portlander, both the housed and unhoused, are repaired, restored, and revitalized. Our “Community Standard” achieved. 


Together, we sheltered the unsheltered. 

Priority #2

Day Shelters

Everything Shelter Portland does revolves around our focus on the Five S’s: Safety, Security, Shelter, Sleep, and Services. While our nighttime shelters and daytime shelters provide all five, our day shelters emphasize the Services, linking our guests to the next step out of our public safety emergency shelter system, where every person’s story should be treated like a ‘Disaster Recovery’ and immediately solved.


Day shelters provide a warm hand off to our guests from our nighttime emergency shelters. These community resources will be located throughout Portland and in every one of Portland’s four new districts, providing services and care to help those housed from falling into houselessness and those homeless to become housed.

They are designed to augment the over 230, Rose City Resource Guide, already available resources that are available during the day for our homeless and at risk of becoming homeless Portlanders.


Our day shelters provide meals, showers, clean clothes swaps, link to storage, Goodwill vouchers, TriMet vouchers, social services and trust for the homeless and community, and so much more. With 50% of all Foster Care kiddos and newly released prisoners becoming homeless within 18 months, nobody will fall through the cracks. And, with addiction and behavioral health needs at crisis levels in Portland, these centers will help provide a link and referral, when the guest is ready, to access health and social services for a path to recovery and home.


Again, our community members, residents, shopkeepers, and public safety officials, have an immediate resource to refer to anyone they find on the street in need. Day shelters will be only a short distance away.

Shelter Portland Day Shelter Guidelines 

Modeled on San Francisco’s successful Embarcadero SAFE Navigation Center Good Neighbor Policy and Amsterdam’s De Regenboog Groep walk-in centres, our day shelters are good community members and are designed to add value to the neighborhoods they operate in. 

Safety Zone: No day shelter guests are to loiter or live unsheltered within the “Safety Zone” of the facility. To limit the impact on the community, staff and guests, guests are not permitted to deal drugs, openly use drugs, or compromise livability within the "Safety Zone." Security: Nightly neighborhood security services patrols in the “Safety Zone.” Outreach Services: Each day shelter offers office space for one or more hours per week to a City/County Joint Office of Homeless Services (City/County JOHS) outreach worker to provide a link to services for day shelter guests and those living in the “Outreach Zone.” Worksystems Shelter Worker Training Program: Workforce development program and non-standard with cash for one or more hours of work at day shelter or community cleanup and community goodwill. Built for Zero: Day shelters are set up to participate in the City/County JOHS by-name list (BNL) to better coordinate services for guests to help rapidly assess and address a person’s root cause of homelessness. Homeless Court Program: Each day shelter participates in the Shelter Portland Homeless Court Program, a removal of barriers to housing program for guests who complete a recovery and life skill program. Tent Distribution: Day shelters agree to not participate in the City/County JOHS distribution of tents to the homeless. Shelter Portland instead will provide shelter.

SF Safe Zones

Yes, It Works! Shelter Portland day shelters are operating and providing care and connection to services today: 

St Peter & Paul Episcopal Church Day Shelter
St Peter & Paul Episcopal Church Day Shelter

Spotlight: St Peter & Paul Episcopal Church 

247 SE 82nd Ave, Portland, OR, 97215 

  • Shelter Type: Day Shelter

  • Shelter Portland rent payment per month: $3,000

  • Shelter operator: PDX Saints Love

  • Shelter operations funded by: Shelter Portland & PDX Saints Love

  • First day of operations: February 1, 2024

  • Day's Providing Services: Tuesday to Friday

  • Guest capacity: +/- 150 persons per day 

  • Cost per person per night: $62.50

Priority #3

Built For Zero

Ending unsheltered homelessness and providing for the unmet basic need of a roof over every Portlander is our most important priority. The next immediate step is to turn off the sources of INFLOW (+) into homelessness and accelerate the OUTFLOW (-) of homelessness to housing.


We achieve this by fully embracing the City/County Joint Office of Homeless Services (City/County JOHS) Built for Zero program. Successful Built for Zero communities around the nation know exactly how many people are experiencing homelessness at any time. They know a lot more than that, too.


They know who each person is, how they became homeless (inflow), and what that individual needs to get back into housing (outflow). They know the length of time each person has been homeless, the full truth of their story, and what specific challenges are keeping them out of housing, such as the absence of a driver's license or birth certificate, having a criminal record, or unpaid fines.


They know all this with the help of the by-name list (BNL). The BNL isn't just about collecting stats on each person experiencing homelessness. Taken together, the BNL and the data it provides give a view of homelessness across the entire community — and allow teams to work toward ending it.


That is where Shelter Portland comes in. Here is what only one of our shelters has accomplished in two months using Built for Zero’s BNL techniques:

Church of Nazarene Shelter
Client at Church of Nazarene Shelter

Spotlight: Church of Nazarene

105 guests assisted with housing or to become "Housing Ready"

  • 49 IDs, 6 Birth Certificates

  • 12 Medical needs addressed (taking pressure off our ERs)

  • 4 SSI & SSDI benefits established (creating income for housing)

  • 18 people referred to various programs for substance abuse treatment, behavior health treatment, sober housing, or 24-hour shelter

  • 3 bus rides home

  • 13 guests housed at Agape Village transitional housing 

These service delivery successes only happened because we provided shelter first, with no preconditions, established trust on a first-name basis (our by-name list), learned the individual needs of our guests, and then did the hard work of following through with solutions.


Every Shelter Portland nighttime emergency shelter and day shelter is committed to linking into the City/County JOHS’s Built for Zero BNL registry.


Built for Zero Success Requires the Entire Community


A successful Built for Zero program and community is when every public safety system and homeless service provider participates in an accurate and ongoing by-name list (BNL) registry: Portland Street Response, police, fire, every emergency shelter and day shelter, public and private, etc.

Rose Haven Day Shelter

Katie O’Brien, Executive Director, Rose Haven and Keith Wilson, Shelter Portland, in front of Rose Haven Day Shelter welcome board

Spotlight: Rose Haven - Day Shelter 

​Rose Haven's has 4,000 unique guests registered in their information system with no electronic data interchange with the City/County Joint Office of Homeless Services by-name list registry. Imagine the efficiencies that both Rose Haven, who wants to participate in the by-name list registry, and the City/County would achieve if they coordinated systems: Reduced duplication of efforts and cost; guest service delivery speeds increased in place of delays and interruptions. In an emergency, when delivering services to our homeless and at risk of becoming homeless communities is a matter of life or death, every minute counts. 

The magic of Built for Zero is its ability to track the INFLOW and the OUTFLOW of homelessness in real time to enable Portland to direct their attention and resources to implement unique strategies to solve today’s reasons for homelessness, not yesterday’s. Nighttime emergency shelters and day shelters will help alleviate our unsheltered homelessness crisis but Built for Zero will enable the system to find and solve the next challenge after these have been resolved. 

Reducing the INFLOW into Unsheltered Homelessness: 

“Released to Homelessness” is a widespread and cruel institutional practice that must be discontinued. Hospitals, mental health, and detox facilities, Foster Care, jails, etc., must coordinate with the Built for Zero in-reach team before any person is “released to homelessness.” The best way to reduce unsheltered homelessness is when our systems efficiently communicate with one another and are set up, so it never occurs. 

Spotlight: Hospital 'Gomers'

“Get Out of My Emergency Room” (‘Gomers’) unwanted homeless patients must be coordinated with the City/County Built for Zero in-reach team to ensure that no patient is ever ‘released to homelessness’ and ushered by hospital staff onto a bus for a TriMet ride to nowhere or an Uber ride to a shelter with no capacity. Shelter Portland’s nighttime shelters will always have an available bed. Hospitals, in coordination with the City/County referral hotline, can find the nearest shelter with a guaranteed open bed or day shelter ready to assist. No person, after suffering a medical or mental health crisis, should be released without the basic needs of a ROOF. 

Spotlight: As a community, what have we become?

Released to Homelessness

Photo of a man “Released to Homelessness” in March by a Vancouver hospital with his hospital gown and medical wristband as his only items. The hospital cabbed him to the Church of Nazarene shelter and dropped him off at the door. Somehow, he got into the facility and Matt Huff, Shelter Portland Executive Director, found him sleeping in the kitchen pantry. Other than riding in the cab, the man had no idea where he was.

On any given night, a midnight walk through any Portland hospital emergency room will show how they are sheltering our unsheltered homeless in their halls and patient rooms, with many suffering from a preventable illness that has escalated to an emergency. While Multnomah County and the City of Portland blame each other for our homeless system missteps, our entire community are victims: hospitals who are forced by limited capacity to make a best of only worse decisions, Portlanders because of overprescribed ERs that result in slower response times in our greatest time of medical need, and our unsheltered homeless because they have nowhere else to go. 


“Homeless Upon Arrival”: More than one-third (35% timeline link) of the entire INFLOW to Portland and Multnomah County are people that are ‘homeless upon arrival.’ As homelessness has no boundaries, these individuals were homeless elsewhere and now find themselves homeless in Portland. Many of these people were homeless in other parts of Oregon before they arrived, but a staggering 21% (timeline 21% link) of Portland’s “homeless upon arrival” population are from “out of state,” a statistic that is one of the highest in the nation. 


Shelter Portland’s mission of increasing the availability of nighttime emergency shelter beds to accommodate anyone in need will not only alleviate people’s suffering but also allow Portland to properly enforce its no-camping laws. This will drastically help reduce Portland’s magnet status for those living in tents, makeshift structures, shopkeepers’ doorways, and inoperable, unlicensed, uninsured cars, RVs, trailers, and boats. Our shared “Community Standard” achieved, unsheltered homelessness will no longer be a normalized behavior and our community and streets will no longer be a destination. 


This approach is neither novel nor unique. Other communities, such as Boise, Idaho, have only needed to provide a fraction of the shelter beds compared to the actual unsheltered homeless population. 

Spotlight: Martin v. City of Boise 

In 2018, the City of Boise lost a no-camping homeless lawsuit, Martin v Boise (link to timeline Boise). Former City of Boise Mayor Dave Bieter provided this experience and an account of what happens when a community allows camping in their community: 


“Soon after the case was decided, there was a 120-person tent encampment near my offices at City Hall. My team and community thought that because we lost the lawsuit, camping was now allowed in our city. I explained to my team that, despite the ruling, camping is inhumane, not legal, and nobody should have to sleep on our streets. I instructed my team that we were going to care for these individuals and to prepare 120 shelter beds for the campers, even if overflow beds were needed. After providing 30 days’ notice to this community and outreach services throughout the countdown, we closed the camp. 


In an after-action review, we were surprised to find that 40 of these individuals went back home regionally, for example, Cheyenne, Salt Lake City, Portland, etc.; 40 went home locally, staying with family and friends; and 40 accepted our offer of shelter. 


My biggest takeaway is that when you normalize camping in your community, it draws people not only from the sheltered homeless and the housed locally, but regionally as well. I thought, incorrectly, if we had more programs for the homeless, we would draw more homeless, but it is the lack of rules and allowing camping that draw from out of town.”

Police interacting with a homeless man in a tent in Boise, ID
Keith Wislon and Dave Bieter, former Mayor of Boise, Idaho

(Right) Shelter Portland’s Leadership Council member and Former City of Boise Mayor Dave Bieter and Keith Wilson, Shelter Portland. Mayor Bieter, as the appellant for Martin v. Boise, advises that when a community provides shelter to care for their community, unsheltered homelessness can be solved. 

Today the City of Boise, a city half the size of Portland, has 2.2 unsheltered people per 10,000 , while Portland has 48.0 unsheltered people per 10,000. 

Graph showing the difference between Portland's unsheltered homelesness rate to Boise, ID

One third accessed emergency shelter: During the week of January 14th, 2024, Portland experienced a deadly winter storm with temperatures hovering near 15 degrees. In response, the City/County emergency services rapidly set up a dozen severe winter shelters providing lifesaving shelter to 1,300 unsheltered homeless. There are 3,944 unsheltered homeless persons in Portland. This one-third utilization rate is consistent with Mayor Bieter’s anecdote and experience. When camping is nearly impossible (severe weather or ample beds are provided to enable codes to be enforced), two-thirds of the population find alternate shelter (doubling up, hotels, departing, etc.). 


Unfortunately, once the weather crisis ended and the temporary emergency shelters were closed, our City/County response was to resupply our unsheltered homeless with new tents, tarps, and sleeping bags as they ventured back out into 31-degree weather with an inch of ice still on the ground. 


Stop Handing Out Tents! Handing out tents and tarps is misguided compassion. 


Contrary to human rights and our current laws, our City/County’s ongoing pattern and practice “to hand out tents and tarps to the unhoused” is as ineffective as it is inefficient and inhumane. 


While our City/County scatters the houseless to pitch tents and tarps throughout our entire city, the scores of the City/County outreach workers work tirelessly, day and night, rain or shine, to enter by-name list information to best determine each individual’s root cause of homelessness with the intentions of connecting them with the most appropriate resources. However, the same City/County, responding to the tens of thousands of complaints from tourists, residents, and business owners, ‘responds’ by sweeping these illegal campsites and forcibly removing the tents and tarps. Consequently, any trust the City/County outreach worker has garnered with this vulnerable and fearful community is temporarily broken, if not completely severed. Since Portland does not currently have enough shelter beds tonight, this same individual, whose tent was just forcibly removed, will soon be provided a tent by the same City/County shelter or outreach worker to again be set up in a neighborhood, park, or alleyway...and the cycle continues. 


Handing out tents is not only inhumane, but also costly. Each tent costs our City/County JOHS $70.48. Each subsequent campsite removal costs the City of Portland $2,598

“What we allow, is what will continue.” 


Julia Orlando, Director of the Bergen County (NJ) Housing Health and Human  

Services Center and Shelter Portland’s Leadership Council member 

Spotlight: Elizabeth's Story - Two beds and an addiction

My neighbor’s daughter, Elizabeth, grew up across the street but now lives at and around the Greyhound Shelter, across from Union Station, downtown. She is caught in the middle of her addiction and the dysfunctional relationship between our City and County. 


She lives at both the shelter and in a tent nearby. Periodically, she will stay at the shelter, where she can access safety, food, laundry, and sleep. The shelter requires a weekly check-in with her case worker, but other than that, there are few, if any, stay or engagement requirements. When Elizabeth is staying in her tent, she can use drugs freely and is surrounded by her community with ready access to the drugs that fuel her addiction, but she is also exposed to the dangers of overdose, abuse, and other unspeakable realities. These are especially severe for a woman living unsheltered. 


The City of Portland periodically will sweep her tent. Then an outreach worker, shelter, or day shelter will quickly provide her with a new tent. 


In Elizabeth’s case and hundreds of Portlanders like her, this cycle has gone on for years. What reason has our City or County provided her to change this behavior, when they are the ones who have enabled and then normalized it? 

Sadly, until Shelter Portland can provide enough nighttime shelters to bring about the end of this cruelty, I am reminded of Elizabeth’s suffering, her parents' pain, and all the other families suffering like them, every time I see Elizabeth’s daughter playing in their front yard. 


Accelerate OUTFLOW:

Following the City of Boise’s example, Portland can expect, with the expansion of nighttime emergency shelters ending unsheltered homelessness, that many unsheltered who are now sheltered, may need reunification support with a family member or friend who can house them. The Built for Zero by-name list (BNL) and its coordinated entry can help make the connection and then arrange the transit home. 

Spotlight: Reunification 

Every new client who arrives at the Human Services Campus (HSC) ‘Welcome Center,’ Phoenix’s largest homeless shelter, is asked this question: “Would you like us to contact a family member or friend and let them know you would like to come home?” For 10% of the 5,700 individuals who entered the HSC in 2022, the answer was, “Yes.” HSC makes the connection for their client, and a bus ticket is arranged. Fact: “85% of people who receive this reunification/diversion support from HSC do not return to homelessness.” Reunification/diversion provides a significant level of outflow for Phoenix’ homeless services system. 

Amy Schwabenlender, Executive Director of Human Services Campus, Phoenix, AZ, and Keith Wilson, Shelter Portland

Amy Schwabenlender, Executive Director of Human Services Campus, Phoenix, AZ, and Keith Wilson, Shelter Portland 

"The Zone" in Phoenix, AZ

Phoenix’s “the Zone.” In 2022, this strip of land had 1,000 persons living unsheltered. Amy and her team has now provided many of these people nighttime shelter in the HSC. 

End Unsheltered Homelessness - Celebrate, pivot to the next population, but never Rest! 


Built for Zero is grounded in identifying and reducing unique segments of the homeless population (e.g. youth, families, elderly, vets, chronically homeless) to zero. But we cannot isolate these populations until we have addressed the inflow and outflow of the largest and most unsafe, unsanitary, and at risk of danger population to zero, unsheltered homelessness. Shelter Portland’s nighttime shelters and day shelters are designed to accomplish this. By doing so, we ensure no Portlander dies on our streets tonight. Then, with our unsheltered sheltered, and only then, can we begin the work of housing the unique populations that remain, and, in Built for Zero jargon, to bring community wide homelessness to “functional zero.” 

Priority #4

Multnomah County Homeless Court Program 

Over 50% of all arrests in Portland are of the unsheltered. This is often due to an outstanding warrant, but Portland has clearly shown it cannot arrest its way out of this humanitarian crisis. Many of our unsheltered, despite their best intentions, are caught up in the vicious cycle of poverty, homelessness, and the criminal justice system. 


Often, a homeless person, because of addiction, property crime, and other offenses associated with living unsheltered, may have a warrant for their arrest, a criminal record, and, in many cases, thousands of dollars in outstanding fines and fees. Often, all three. 


If these individuals are lucky enough to work, they are often left with only low-paying or under-the-table jobs, which lack the necessary markers that landlords need to verify income and employment status. Consequently, their applications for housing and jobs are consistently denied. 


The Homeless Court Program, a collaborative partnership between the courts, the community, and the client, is designed to help remove these barriers. In essence, it helps the unhoused become ‘Housing Ready.’ 

Homeless Court Program’s History and Future 

First established in San Diego and supported by the American Bar Association in Washington, DC, and now in over 70 communities nationwide, Shelter Portland is proud to announce that we will be leading the implementation of the Multnomah County Homeless Court Program. 


With the support from the Multnomah County Circuit Court, the Multnomah County District Attorney (DA), the Metropolitan Public Defender (PD), Worksystems, Clackamas Workforce Partnership, the Here Together Coalition, a myriad of regional homeless service providers, and with a special thanks to Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum, the program will be launching in early 2024. 

San Diego Homeless Court Public Defender Matt

Matt Wechter, San Diego County Public Defender & Director of Homeless Court Program, and Keith Wilson, Shelter Portland, prepping for a monthly homeless court session held at San Diego’s Veteran’s Village Homeless Shelter where 60 area homeless persons completed their programs and barriers to housing were removed. October 2019. 

Keith Wilson at Center for Employment Opportunities

Keith Wilson and Andy Goebel, Shelter Portland board members, led a group from Portland to San Diego to collaborate with Judges, DAs, public defenders and homeless service providers. Left to right, Harrison Kennedy, Patrick Gihring, Mike Schmidt, District Attorney, Multnomah County, Grant Hartley, Barbara Marcille, Keith, Jenna Plank, Rob Smith, Laura Golino de Lovato, Celine Mazoyer, Amanda Wall, Daniel Hovanas, Andy. 

Keith Wilson at American Bar Association

Kelly Russo, Director of Commission on Homelessness & Poverty, American Bar Association, Washington, DC, Keith Wilson, Shelter Portland, and Matt Wechter. Meeting to discuss and agree to support the expansion of their model Homeless Court Program in the Portland metropolitan area. May 15, 2023. 

Visit to San Diego Homeless Court Program

Multnomah County and Clackamas Workforce Partnership Homeless Court Program observation with San Diego County judge, district attorney and public defender 

Our criminal justice system traditionally motivates people with a coercive “stick” approach. The Homeless Court Program is a more inspiring “carrot” strategy. 


The program, offered by participating homeless service providers with unique programs tailored specially for their clients (e.g., a women’s shelter focused on the trauma experienced because of domestic violence or a veteran’s shelter with an emphasis on post-traumatic stress disorder), typically lasts 90 to 180 days and provides up to 300 class hours of recovery and life skills. 


After a client completes a program, they become eligible for Homeless Court. Where the court, acknowledging they will never be able to get money from a homeless person, dismisses their past and active misdemeanor cases and removes their outstanding fines and fees - a huge “carrot” and, most importantly, an achievement the client accomplishes themselves. 


The traditional criminal justice script is flipped because a judge, district attorney (DA), and public defender (PD) hold the proceedings at one of the homeless service providers' facilities. The client and their homeless service provider program sponsor stand before the judge; the public defender presents a testimonial outlining the client’s accomplishments while in the sponsor's program and presents a list of dockets that the DA and PD have previously agreed to dismiss. After the PD finishes, the judge asks the DA if “all outstanding matters for the people have been satisfied?” The DA confirms, and the judge dismisses the charges, fines, and fees. 


It is not a hand-out, nor is it a hand-up. It is a HANDSHAKE because the participants accomplished everything on their own. 


It's a powerful moment of celebration! 

The client now has a tailwind in life, a barrier to housing removed, and often, the first positive outcome with our judicial system. 

How does this program improve community safety? 

Once clients agree to participate in the Homeless Court Program, they are, in most cases, eligible to have any outstanding warrants for arrest deferred so long as they remain in the homeless service provider’s program. The court recognizes that a Homeless Court Program client working on overcoming their contributing factors to becoming homeless is a service to the community - with the goal of housing and joining our community and possibly the workforce. 


With the nighttime shelter network reducing unsheltered homelessness and the homeless court removing barriers to housing, our law enforcement professionals should experience a steady drop in the arrest rate for the unsheltered homeless population. This will improve police response times and safety for every Portlander.

Spotlight: Charles 

Charles is a homeless veteran who was living at a Do Good Multnomah Shelter for vets. He is a good person, but he has PTSD and struggles with addiction. 


The good news is that he has an open housing voucher. We can technically house him. However, because of his addiction, he has a criminal record and five thousand dollars in outstanding fines and fees. Consequently, his application for housing and apartments has been consistently denied. 


He is eligible to have his criminal record expunged and is receiving help from a Workforce program. However, all fines and fees must be satisfied first. The court, admitting they will not receive funds from a homeless person, has agreed to accept community service. However, he is struggling to complete it. 


In this case, if the Do Good Shelter was a certified Homeless Court Program provider, Charles could work on addressing the root cause of his homelessness in place of community service. By completing a program, Charles would be eligible for Homeless Court, where his past and active open cases would be dismissed, and his fines and fees removed. He would have been incentivized to work on himself, obtain stable housing, join the community, and perhaps eventually join the workforce. 


However, the tragic reality of Charles’ case, and so many others, is that the burden of his PTSD, homelessness, and community service requirements overcame him. He left the shelter because nothing was motivating him to stay. In the words of his case worker, “he’s gone, most likely back on the streets…clearly, he needs help, but as usual, the cycle continues.”  

Shelter Portland has enrolled nine of Portland’s largest homeless service providers in the Homeless Court Program. We want all the area’s homeless service providers to join us in ending unsheltered homelessness in Portland. Please email Shelter Portland to join the Multnomah County Homeless Court Program. 

Priority #5

Rapidly Develop Affordable Housing 

Revitalizing our community begins with ending unsheltered homelessness, but no one wants to live in a shelter. 


Our Shelter Portland team, in parallel to its focus on building out its network of nighttime and day shelters, are fierce advocates of rapidly developing affordable housing. Sheltering our unsheltered is our mission, but housing our homeless is our vision. 


Housing is the last step in the continuum of care for our homeless. It is the most expensive and takes time to prepare, plan, and action. But it doesn’t have to be, and in a ‘Disaster Recovery,’ it can’t be. 


We have 4,000 unsheltered homeless in Portland. Once Shelter Portland ends unsheltered homelessness and fully implements our priorities, in addition to the work the City/County’s Joint Office of Homeless Services is providing with their rapid rehousing and Housing Multnomah Now programs, we must quickly add thousands of deeply affordable housing units. 


However, the waitlist to develop, fund, and build new affordable housing in Portland is five years. Our homeless and housing cost burdened neighbors (which are 36% of all Portland homes) simply can’t wait that long. Here’s how we make our assets sweat in the interim, sidestepping the delays and high cost of new construction and property development, to provide the dignity of a space and a place for every income, revitalizing our communities, and restoring a sense of pride in Portland. 

Shelter Portland has enrolled nine of Portland’s largest homelessness service providers in the Homeless Court Program. We want all the area’s homeless service providers to join us in ending unsheltered homelessness in Portland. Please email Shelter Portland to join the Multnomah County Homeless Court Program.

Home Sharing - "An empty room is full of opportunity"

In the late 1800s, Portland had more homeless people per capita than any other U.S. city, but unsheltered homelessness was rare (link to timeline 1880s). 


During the 19th and early 20th centuries, at the height of the homeless population, Portland had a variety and an abundance of flexible and low-cost housing and single-room occupancy (SRO) options, between one-third and one-half of urban households home-shared, renting out rooms in their homes. 

“Some 28 percent of American households consist of a single person living alone, yet fewer than 1 percent of housing units are studios.”


Nickolas Kristoff, “The Old New Way to Provide Cheap Housing,” New York Times, Dec. 9, 2023 

Portland homes have 195,000 ‘empty rooms that are full of opportunity.’ If we can match housemates with just 1% of the homeowners that have spare bedrooms in Portland, 1,950 people could be housed affordably, and 1,950 more households, specifically, the 36% of households that are cost-burdened and at risk of foreclosure or eviction, could stay in their homes – all with no new infrastructure development. 


Shelter Portland strongly promotes home sharing and single-room occupancy units as an opportunity to rapidly add much-needed inventory. 


Every month, there are 5,000 people looking for a room to rent in Portland. The need is there, the rooms are not. To rapidly fill this need, we advocate our City/County leadership use existing funding sources, rapid rehousing, Housing Multnomah Now, etc., to provide a $3,000 per room upfront incentive to homeowners to cover the costs of converting their spare rooms for home sharing. 


In the face of our homelessness and housing crisis, we have an extraordinary opportunity to add thousands of housing units in a fraction of the time and cost. This is a low risk, high reward strategy. 


For comparison, the 2016 Portland housing bond resulted in 1,859 new housing units with proceeds providing $139,000 of funding per door, and after eight years, many of the units are still unfinished. 


What’s more, home sharing has the potential to add 2,000 single room occupancy units EVERY year. 


These rooms offer more than just a way to provide housing for the homeless and our entire community quickly; they also serve as an important rung on the housing ladder for those who have aged out of the foster care system, recent graduates, homeless court program graduates, or adults receiving income from social security or disability payments, and so many others. Just as it did for Portland residents a century ago, home-sharing ensures that homelessness is never the bottom rung on the housing ladder. 


Homeshare Oregon and PadSplit, both of which are similar to long-term Airbnb, are two examples of home sharing and how we can build community in Portland one room at a time! 


HomeShare Oregon – ‘Rent a room, create a home’ 


The mission of HomeShare Oregon, based in Portland, is to expand access to affordable housing through home sharing. They believe that this is a direct way to prevent housing instability, foreclosure, and homelessness. It is an immediate solution to our affordable housing crisis. 


The average one-bedroom, one-bath apartment in Portland is $1,640 a month. The average home sharing agreement is on average $800 - $900 a month—almost half the current market rate. 

Homeshare Oregon Picture
Homeshare Oregon Picture

HomeShare Oregon

  • Billing Period: Month to Month 

  • Rental Cost: $800 - $900 per month 

  • Deposit: No 

  • Utilities Included: Negotiated 

  • Avg Length of Stay: 8 months 

  • Credit Score Required: Landlord discretion 

  • Criminal Background Check: Landlord discretion

PadSplit – "We can do more with our existing housing™" 


PadSplit believes shared housing is a fast, cost-effective way to scale affordable housing for the workforce. Shelter Portland agrees and is working to bring PadSplit to Portland. PadSplit was founded five years ago and has grown to become the country’s largest shared housing marketplace. Real estate investors, homeowners, and community partners work with PadSplit to provide affordable, dignified housing in the communities they operate in. 

Pad Split
PadSplit rooms


  • Billing Period: Week to Week 

  • Rental Cost: $129 - $250 per week 

  • Avg Length of Stay: 8 months 

  • Security Deposit: No 

  • Utilities Included: Yes 

  • Furnished Room: Yes 

  • Credit Score Required: No 

  • Criminal Background Check: Yes 

At Shelter Portland, in addition to advocating for a Home Share Room Conversion Incentive, we advocate for the following support to fast track this needed and immediate resource: 

Landlord and Tenant Financial and Insurance Support

  • ‘Good government should not tax what they want’ 

  • Shelter Portland advocates for the passage in the next Oregon legislative session (similar to House Bill 3023 in 2023) that homeowners who are willing to rent out a spare bedroom for $1,000 a month or less, for longer-term rental agreements are alleviated from state income tax liability on the additional income. 

  • Rent Well incentive funds extended to home sharing landlords for tenants who graduate from the Rent Well tenant education course that teaches individuals their rights and responsibilities as renters. 

  • This funding provides landlords with the assurance that if a Rent Well graduate leaves their rental unit within the first year and owes unpaid rent, damages, or legal fees beyond what the security deposit covers, the program will pay the landlord to cover those additional costs up to a certain amount. 

Workspace to Homebase - Office-to-Residential Conversions

Along with our housing shortage crisis, we have a crisis in the heart of our city, an abandoned downtown. Businesses are fleeing:

277 Downtown Portland jobs lost 


“You have to make it safe. If it’s not safe, no one is going to come downtown.”

“Hoffman Construction to leave downtown Portland headquarters” 

200 Central Eastside jobs lost

“The east end of the Hawthorne Bridge, meanwhile, has steadily deteriorated. It’s inundated with tents and garbage, and a once-popular waterfront path in front of Trimble’s offices has been the scene of intermittent violence.” 

“Portland software firm moving offices from Portland to Lake Oswego, cites deteriorating safety” 

As a result, where other large cities are recovering from the pandemic, Portland has not. 


  • Downtown visitor activity is down 38% from 2019 

  • UC Berkeley, downtown Portland’s recovery ranked #60 out of 62 U.S. cities’ downtowns 

  • In 2024, Portland’s downtown inventory available for lease is expected to approach 40%

  • 32 office buildings in the downtown core have 70% or higher vacancy 


Financial and economic impacts of unsheltered homelessness and declining livability. 


We know the obvious humanitarian and livability damages of skyrocketing unsheltered homelessness, but what’s been the economic impact on Portland? And perhaps more importantly, if Portland’s homelessness policies had been more like Boise’s, where shelter is provided to all in need and camping is prohibited, what would be the difference in vacancy rates and its economic impact? 

Portland vs Boise
Central Business District Vacancy Rate

Portland vs. Boise

Unsheltered Homelessness
Per 10,000 Residents

Unsheltered homelessness per capita

From 2013 to 2017, Portland and Boise central business districts (downtown) vacancy rates were similar, reflecting normal market fluctuations. Unsheltered homeless rates were also relatively unchanged during this time frame. However, in 2017, upon the launch of the City/County JOHS, unsheltered homeless rates and downtown office vacancies began to soar. Statistically, it is clear, that as Portland's unsheltered homeless rate rises, the downtown vacancy rate also rises. Therefore, when the unsheltered rate falls, vacancy rates will fall.* 


* The correlation coefficient between Portland's unsheltered homelessness rate and Portland’s Central Business District vacancy rate is .85 – a “very strong” correlation coefficient (i.e., no correlation is “0”, very strong correlation is “.7 to 1”). 


The difference between Portland and Boise’s current office vacancy rate is more than just a comparison of percentage points. It is a study of the contrasting approaches to the unsheltered homelessness crisis (link to Boise timeline). Boise, a jurisdiction that took on the challenge of caring for all its community members by ensuring their unsheltered are sheltered and their camping laws are enforced, has tracked along with market conditions (Covid, hybrid work, etc.) and maintained a relatively stable downtown office vacancy rate. Tragically, Portland is a different story. What if the City/County had followed our eastern neighbor's more effective and humanitarian policies with the unsheltered? Might Portland’s vacancy rate not be 11.3 percentage points higher than Boise’s? 


But what does the economic impact of 11.3 percentage points in vacancy rate mean exactly for Portland? Why does it matter? 

By the Numbers: 

Portland's CBD Lost Opportunity table

The higher vacancy rate in Portland's downtown core has resulted in a loss of $2.7 billion in revenue from office rents and wages per year. This significant economic impact does not even consider the loss in revenue sustained from businesses that support downtown offices, workers, and visitors, such as service and supply companies, restaurants, entertainment and hospitality, and small shopkeepers. For every billion dollars of lost revenue, there is a corresponding loss of hundreds of millions of dollars in property, business, and wage tax revenue. This creates a funding shortfall for city services, infrastructure maintenance, transportation investments and public safety creating a downward spiral in the quality of our city. 


Portland’s central business district decline is, in part, the result of the mismanagement of the unsheltered homeless population. Of course, there are other factors involved, Covid and hybrid work policies, which have affected Boise as well. However, if Portland had more humanely and efficiently addressed the rising unsheltered homeless population, the hemorrhaging of economic activity would be a fraction of what it is today. 


This economic loss only takes into account the vacancy rate difference in Portland’s 275 square block downtown core. This number pales in comparison when considering the 145 square miles that make up the entire city of Portland and all the shopkeepers and businesses suffering in every business district and neighborhood. 


A 65-year old homeless woman sleeps in a doorway in Portland, Ore. (Israel Bayer) 

Vacant Retail location with homeless camping in entryway.

Vacant retail location on Sandy Boulevard near Hollywood Theater with person living in entry way 

However, it is easy to imagine a vibrant downtown again after Shelter Portland has operationalized its network of nighttime shelters and day shelters that will end unsheltered homelessness. The benefits of our reestablished ‘Community Standard’ will be an immediate reduction in crime, trash, drug use, and other unsafe, dangerous, and unsanitary impacts when our streets and shopkeepers’ doorways are no longer used as a bedroom or toilet. These benefits will have a far-reaching effect on our entire city but no more so than in our downtown, which has been hardest hit by the impact of Covid and Portland’s decline. 


To revitalize our downtown core, not only do we need to end unsheltered homelessness, but we also need an immediate plan that accepts that workers won’t soon return to their offices in the same numbers as before Covid. 


Rapidly converting office buildings into residential or mixed-use spaces is one such plan to help address our housing shortage crisis and diversify our central business district. This would allow greater numbers of full-time residents and visitors to enjoy downtown’s restaurants, entertainment, and efficient transit system once again. 


Build 1200 Units in 24 Months 


There are many ways to spur private development for office-to-residential conversions with public subsidies, but our goal and need in downtown Portland is to rapidly develop housing. 

There are few better examples than Calgary and how they have transformed their downtown core. In only two years, the Downtown Calgary Development Incentive Program provided $150 million in credits that resulted in 1,200 new homes, with more in the pipeline. The first conversion was completed in 12 months. 


By comparison, Portland’s 2016 housing bond of $258 million provided funds for 1,300 affordable housing units, with more in the pipeline. However, only seven of the 15 projects have opened after eight years. It’s time to pivot from business as usual. We cannot rely solely on new construction to address our housing shortage. We must be bold and innovative yet follow in the footsteps of proven models, and Calgary is one of those models. 


The heart of Calgary’s program is big, yet simple: 


  • Permitting was sped up to less than two months 

  • $150 million initial investment 

  • $55 per square foot to developers in the form of grants 

Not all buildings are suited for conversions, but many are. The grants will spur developers to take on the projects that will pencil out. In turn, the City of Portland can use the ability to choose what projects it wants to fund to encourage developers to submit projects that will be deeply affordable, affordable, middle-income housing, or a mix, to better meet the needs of a diverse workforce. 


Portland’s downtown, with its vast underutilized buildings, transit system, and infrastructure cannot wait a decade for a development plan to work. We need to take dramatic action like Calgary and others now. 


How will Portland pay?

  • $3 million per building 2023 Portland System Development Cost office-to-residential conversion incentive. Shelter Portland recommends removing the $3 million limit, adding a circa $55 per square foot incentive, and allowing the funds to go directly to remodeling costs if the building already meets seismic standards – Revitalize our downtown faster. 

  • $10 billion Federal HUD Community Development Block Grant Program - funding that can be used to support acquisition and rehabilitation associated with the conversion of commercial properties to residential uses. 

  • $35 billion Federal USDOT below-market loans available to expand residential downtowns around transportation-oriented development projects. 


  • Quick Completion: With a two-month permitting cap, converting an existing building can be completed faster than new construction. 

  • Lower Cost: Conversion costs are up to 20 percent cheaper than demolish-and-rebuild projects. 

  • Lower Emissions: Buildings account for 29 percent of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, and estimates suggest rehabilitated structures can produce 50 to 75 percent fewer carbon emissions than new construction. 

  • Economic Engine: Every new downtown multifamily housing unit adds $31,000 to the annual ongoing economic impact that results from new homes becoming occupied by residents who pay taxes and buy locally produced goods and services. Per Thomas Cody, president and CEO, Project PDX, and a member of Governor Kotek’s Housing Production Advisory Committee. 

A Continuum of Care @ One Address

We understand the importance of community. No one walks through life without assistance and supportive connections. The houseless population is no different, and often, the connection to a “family” network, street or biological, can sometimes be the difference maker while on the journey to stability and self-sufficiency. 


Providing all three phases of the housing continuum of care: shelter, transitional housing, and permanent housing, at one “address” is a seamless way to reduce the stress of change, maintain community, and support people’s dignity as they move through the continuum. Portland’s churches are perfectly poised to deliver on this vision. 


Portland’s 517 churches hold over 600 developable acres. Many are positioned, with the right incentives, to provide shelter within their existing facilities, as well as transitional and/or permanent affordable housing with their unused land. In the words of Julia Nielsen, Leaven Land and Housing’s Executive Organizer, “It’s not a land issue. It’s a land use issue.” 


The advantages are many. It can provide a church with additional rental income, a potential lifesaver, given the fact that many churches are facing the financial realities of aging and costly building repairs. It allows a neighborhood to get to know and care for a community in recovery by moving them off the streets and under the safety of a roof. It gives Portland rapid access to additional shelter capacity and, eventually, housing units. But most importantly, it offers a homeless community an accessible, safe, and sustainable place to live in dignity and as part of a community. 

How it Works

CoC Phase 1: Provide Nighttime Shelter 

Overnight Shelter

Like many churches across the city, the Church of Nazarene has an unused assembly during the evening hours. In less than 90 days, Shelter Portland and the Church of Nazarene partnered to set up a nighttime shelter to begin caring for the unsheltered community immediately. This ‘Disaster Recovery’ response prioritizes immediately providing a roof, the most basic need for our unsheltered, and is the key first step of the housing continuum of care. 

CoC Phase 2: Build Transitional Housing – the Bridge between Shelter & Housing 

Not everybody is ready for the jump from shelter to housing. Transitional housing, often called tiny home villages, is an intermediate step between emergency crisis shelter and permanent housing. They are more long-term, service-intensive, and private than emergency shelters. They are meant to provide a safe, supportive environment where residents can overcome trauma, begin to address the issues that led to homelessness or kept them homeless, and begin to rebuild their support network.

Tiny Home Village

Already providing nighttime shelter, the Church of Nazarene leveraged its unused acreage and built Agape Village, a transitional housing project of tiny homes located on the same property, and just a short walk from the church and shelter. This proximity allows a seamless transition for its residents as they move from shelter to more permanent and supportive living. This helps preserve and strengthen a person’s support network and eases their path to recovery and self-sufficiency. 

CoC Phase 3: Develop Affordable Housing 

More than a few churches and developers have already pioneered developing their unused acreage for affordable housing projects – but not without a few bumps and roadblocks. We applaud the many leaders and organizations that have helped smooth the runway for future projects to be more efficient, successful, and timely. Specifically, the city and state have already cleared many permitting, zoning, and infrastructure barriers to help churches develop their unused acreage more quickly and efficiently. 

By the Numbers

  • Portland has 517 churches with 609 developable acres. 

  • In 2018, Portland removed the land use review requirement for affordable housing developments by “faith- or community-based organizations” and allowed churches to repurpose up to half of their parking spaces for housing. 

  • In 2021, Speaker of the House, Tina Kotek sponsored Senate Bill 8, which required municipalities to authorize affordable housing projects on land not zoned for residential use within the urban growth boundary. Wide margins in both houses of the state Legislature approved it. 

  • In late February 2023, Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon joined with Leaven Land and Housing and several other organizations to place House Bill 3482 before the Oregon Legislature. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Mark Gamba, D-Milwaukie, proposed $20 million from the state to cover predevelopment fees for affordable housing projects on church-owned land. Although it did not pass before the session ended in June, Kotek signed into law a $9.7 million budget investment to award grants for some predevelopment costs. It preceded a $200 million legislative package to fund rent assistance, eviction prevention, and housing shelter expansions that the governor approved in March. 

Portsmouth Union Church, one of Shelter Portland’s current nighttime emergency shelters, opened its doors as a warming shelter on cold nights in North Portland in 2014. But they quickly realized it wasn’t enough and began planning to convert a piece of the church’s property into a 20-unit apartment building. They partnered with Home First Development, Good Space Property Management, and Leaven Community Land and Housing Coalition and eventually opened doors to new residents in late 2023. 

Portsmouth Union Church and Apartments
Portsmouth Union Church Apartments

When private developers and city and county leadership continue to partner with the city’s churches to remove barriers, like reducing SDCs, and incentivize with government and private grants, everyone wins – residents and neighborhoods alike. 


Shelter Portland will continue its advocacy and activism to support and augment plans and strategies already in place today across the city. Our goal is and will remain to identify, support, and fast-track our neighbors out of emergency shelters and into available housing as quickly and safely as possible. Following the example set by Portland Central Nazarene and the Portsmouth Union Churches, we know it is possible to provide individuals with all three phases of the continuum of care while never changing their address. 

Metro Supportive Housing Services (SHS) Tax  

In May 2020, voters in greater Portland approved a new regional supportive housing tax. Beginning in 2021 and extending to 2030, its goal is to generate $250 million annually. According to recent projections, it has exceeded expectations and could outperform by $1 billion over the next six years. However, currently SHS funds have not been allocated to affordable housing capital improvements. 


In the last decade, Portland has funded affordable housing with the 2016 Portland and 2018 Metro housing bonds. However, all funds will soon be fully allocated, the buildings will be completed, and thousands of new housing units will be added to our community. While the housing units will be available to meet today's needs, taxpayers will continue bond payments until 2038. How will we continue adding additional housing units in the interim when new housing bonds and higher taxes are not an option in this current political and economic climate? 


Shelter Portland advocates that all excess SHS funds be allocated and fast-tracked to build more deeply affordable housing. Our homeless services system is one of the most well-funded programs in the nation, having grown 380% in seven years. There’s no shortage of money. The 2023-2024 is $232 million.

JOHS Annual Budget slide

To successfully meet our area’s affordable housing needs, our City/County leadership must ensure that SHS funds can sustainably be earmarked for building affordable housing. 


As Shelter Portland actions its flexible, immediate, and most importantly, low-cost shelter system to deliver on its mission to end unsheltered homelessness, the current unsheltered population of 4,000 persons will be moved into shelter with only one-third to one-half making the transition. The remainder will have opted for other accommodations, doubled up with friends or families, or will have left our community voluntarily (link to Boise)


In turn, with a much lower homeless population and an expected reduction of tens of millions of dollars in homeless services and other associated expenses related to homelessness, the city and county should pivot and employ these funds to build affordable housing. 


Our Shelter Portland mission to end unsheltered homelessness can be achieved quickly and at low cost, but our vision to end homelessness needs the rapid development of affordable housing, the means for outflow from homelessness, to meet our community needs of ensuring that any homelessness if it were to ever occur to any community member, would be rare, brief, and one-time. 

 Join our initiative and help us 
end unsheltered  homelessness, now 

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