Oregon Prison to Be Repurposed to Provide Homes for the Homeless in October

September 24, 2020 Updated: September 24, 2020

The Wapato Jail in north Portland will soon be open to house hundreds of homeless.

It will no longer be known as Wapato Jail after a recent rededication ceremony, which included symbolically cutting the razor wire surrounding the facility.

The Bybee Lakes Hope Center will be repurposed as a transitional housing facility and is due to open in early October.

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Front view of the Wapato Correctional Facility in Portland, Ore. (Graywalls/CC BY-SA 4.0)

For eight long months, the Helping Hands Re-entry Outreach Centers have been preparing the 155,000-square-foot building.

Since its construction in 2004, it was left empty and unused. Its original build cost was $58 million, KGW8 reported.

After budget cuts, the county could no longer afford to open the prison nor the $50,000 per month upkeep costs. The jail remained empty for 17 years since it was built.

Along came property developer Jordan Schnitzer, who bought the jail from the County of Multnomah for $5 million with the dream of turning it into a community help center.

With increasing numbers of homeless people in the Portland area, this homeless facility is much needed and will give hope to the community.

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Inside the Wapato jail taken during the public tour in Portland, Ore. (Graywalls/CC BY-SA 4.0)

Schnitzer had high hopes that he would be supported in his endeavor, but he says he’s hopeful more donors will come forward once they see the good being done.

Then along came Alan Evans, CEO of the nonprofit Helping Hands, who joined forces with the property developer to bring what once was a dream to life.

Evans credits Helping Hands donors and Schnitzer, who helped the organization raise $4 million to begin operations and gave them a five-year lease for $1 a year.

“When this gets open and a lot of people who weren’t sure whether it would ever work see that it’s operating, I think there’s a lot of people who would come forward and help make contributions, and also some of the politicians then might say there are some public funds available to keep the program going,” Schnitzer said.

Initially, there will be 240 available beds by December and a host of programs to help people get back on their feet.

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Corridor inside the Wapato Correctional Facility (Graywalls/CC BY-SA 4.0)

The Bybee Lakes Hope Center is a “place to learn to change your life, a place to get educated, vocational training, culinary arts training,” Evans said.

There were hopes for the facility to be open in September, but it is now set to open on Oct. 2, starting with an 84-bed emergency shelter.

Then, in December, phase two is expected to begin with 228 beds catering for longer-term housing and re-entry programs.

The Bybee Lakes Hope Center in conjunction with “Helping Hands” will serve as a shelter and re-entry program, and will provide mental health counseling, among other things. Services will include food, beds, bathrooms, job training, and rehabilitation.

Next year, they are hoping to increase to 525 capacity once all the wings are full.

“What this means is a hope and a dream fulfilled,” said Schnitzer. “And it reinforces for me never let go of your dreams. No matter the obstacles.”

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View from the second floor jail area of Wapato Correctional Facility (Graywalls/CC BY-SA 4.0)

And there were obstacles. Plenty of them.

Both Schnitzer and Evans met at a Charity Event in Seaside; both men coming from very different backgrounds, they shook hands and began an amazing new partnership.

Evan shared his story of being homeless for 27 years—since the age of 14—being a drug addict, and how he was abused as a child.

A Seaside homeless shelter then reached out to help him, and that’s where his life changed.

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Homeless in the city of Portland, Ore. (Robert P. Alvarez/Shutterstock)

After a chance meeting with wealthy developer Jordan Schnitzer, a handshake, and an amazing proposition, he drove out to Wapato Jail.

Schnitzer leased him the building for $1 a year through newly established Helping Hands Charity.

In a recent interview, Evans told KGW8 that there’s a lot of need in the community; but Bybee Lakes Hope Center is not a fix-all facility. He said the fastest-growing population of people who are homeless are senior citizens and women with children.

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Homeless woman asking for help on urban intersection in Portland, Ore. (Victoria Ditkovsky/Shutterstock)

“Those are the people we are willing to help. And we will give anybody an opportunity,” Evans said. “They can use up to the day before they come to us, but when they come to us, they have to be willing to go through a treatment program. But they can’t live the lifestyle they were living and be in our facility.”

He said their model is to assist people who are capable and ready for a change, and they’ll give everybody an opportunity. Evans said the organization and its model are built on his life experience.

Multnomah County’s already high homeless population is expected to rise by an estimated 40–45 percent due to the pandemic, totaling as many as 5,821 individuals, KGW8 reported.

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