Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Bud Clark Commons

Pretty, isn't it?  It's the Bud Clark Commons, and it is a fine-looking addition to Portland's downtown area.  It has a day shelter, a 90 bed shelter and a hundred and thirty single resident apartments.  Those hundred and thirty apartments went to the most needy homeless residents of Portland, mostly to folks who struggle with both mental health issues and addictions. This has been and is a noble project. The idealism and care for the most needy is truly inspiring. 

What is also inspiring is the price tag.  Altogether, it cost the city fifty million dollars to build it.  I don't know how much it will cost to maintain it, but that's got to be a pretty penny.  The city plunked down 29.5 million dollars for it and they obtained other grants for the balance.  *Loud whistle*  That's a chunk of change. It must show how much Portland cares about homelessness. 

That's certainly what Steve Rudman, Excecutive Director of Home Forward said:  "This new building underscores that homelessness is at the forefront of our community's priorities. We are excited to be part of the solution that continues the city's momentum towards ending homelessness."  

Hmmm.  That's interesting.  The goal of the city is to end homelessness?  And this is part of the solution?  Wow, that's really generous of the city.  So their goal to end homelessness is to provide housing like this?  That's great.  However, that comes with quite a price tag.  

In Multnomah County, according to the latest street count, there were 4655 people sleeping on the street or in shelters on January 26.  Of course, there are less people homeless in the winter than in the summer when people don't feel as guilty putting family members on the street, but let's just work with that figure.  If the city was going to spend as much money on all the homeless as they did on the 220 people they just provided housing and shelter then that would be... $1,057,955,815.  A billion fifty eight million dollars.  That's more than half of Portland's annual budget.

That doesn't seem rational, especially in these times of tight budgets and frugal spending.  This must not be Portland's plan to help the homeless, to provide them all with housing.  Perhaps what Steve Rudman said is completely accurate: Homelessness is a focus of the city, not the actual population of homeless people

I suspect that the Bud Clark Commons wasn't developed at the request of homeless people.  Frankly, homeless folks are pretty frugal as a group. If the city were to ask them-- the actual people who are homeless, not the "experts" on homelessness-- how to help the homeless, they would have gotten a lot of answers.  "Tell the police to leave us alone," some would have said.  Others would say, "Get us jobs."  Some would say, "Let us have our own space to build up and to keep secure."  Perhaps some of the less thrifty would say, "Rent us all apartments."

However, not a single homeless person would say, "Spend fifty million dollars on a facility to house 220 of us."  

The Bud Clark Commons only makes sense if you take actual the actual homeless population of Portland out of the equation.  It seems like a great opportunity for the city to show that the city of Portland has the issue of homelessness as a focus.  But more than 95 percent of the homeless population aren't touched by the fifty million dollars spent.

I think next time the city wants to spend fifty million-- heck, even 29.5 million-- dollars on the homeless, they should get together the leaders of the various homeless communities in Portland (yes, there are leaders), and create a series of project that could help literally thousands of homeless folks.  When we see that happening, perhaps I would believe that Portland is actually interested in helping the homeless instead of just creating an expensive facade of care. 


Anonymous said...

Dear Pastor Kimes, I've just read your comments on the Bud Clark Commons. I'm trying to read everything I can on the new housing as my daughter is now a resident for which I'm very thankful. I'm very worried about her though as she tells me she can't sleep at night so goes for long walks around the city. Apparently they don't lock the residents in at night at the Bud Clark Commons. One thing you mentioned were there are leaders in the city concerned about the homeless. I agree there input would have been very helpful in the planning of the Bud Clark Commons. My question is to you as one of them. Are there any support groups for parents of the homeless? This is extremely difficult for me as I love my daughter very much and pray for her constantly but I'm seeing a need to be supported and people in my circles haven't got a clue as to what it is like for my husband and I as parents of an adult homeless, addicted and physically ill child. Can you point me in the right direction? God bless the work you do.

Steve Kimes said...

Wow, what a tough response to answer. I am sorry your daughter doesn't feel safe. Does she have a lock on her door?

The Commons are downtown and many people are nervous about downtown. But I have heard from a number of women, even those who have been to a number of towns, that they feel safer in Portland than most other cities. However, that doesn't mean that basic precautions shouldn't be taken.

I am sure that there is a manager of the Bud Clark Commons and that she or he is available to your daughter. If she is unable to contact the manager, see if she can get you a phone number. If she can't do that, try calling Transition Projects at 503.280.4700. At the very least they know who the manager is and could help you.

I have never heard of a support group for the parents of the homeless and I can see the need of that. I wonder if one could be started? It would be a great service, for many parents just want to know how to help their kids. I'd really want to help such a group get started.