Day-access center could be a galvanizing project
Portland’s struggle to locate a permanent day-access center for the homeless has proven harder than expected. The city of Portland, and City Commissioner Erik Sten’s office, are in the process of spearheading a $30 million state-of-the-art day-access center in Old Town/Chinatown.
If the goal is to create a better quality of life for the neighborhood and downtown, then improving the quality of life for people experiencing homelessness and poverty is a step in the right direction.
From Street Roots’ perspective, the idea of a day access center for the homeless is a win-win, not just for people forced to live exposed to the elements, but also for the health of the community as a whole.
Off the top of our heads we can think of several components of the day access center that would improve Old Town/Chinatown, including offering a visually appealing piece of architecture with green standards, community gardens and creative microenterprises, to name a few.
For better or worse, downtown is evolving. Specifically, Old Town/Chinatown is evolving. Beyond having the Portland Development Commission and NW Natural headquartered in the ’hood, we soon will be welcoming the University of Oregon and Mercy Corps. We have heard rumors of Uwajimaya, an Asian specialty supermarket, which we would welcome with open arms.
The conflicting reality for many businesses downtown is that poverty is real. And it’s not showing any signs of decline. Like it or not, Old Town/Chinatown is home to a web of services working with poor people, including Central City Concern, Sisters Of The Road, Transition Projects, Union Gospel and Street Roots, to name a few.
None of this even starts to address the value of building affordable housing — a dwindling resource — for Portland’s residents. The affordable mixed-income housing units proposed atop the day-access center could be for the very people living and working in the neighborhood. Currently, someone working as a barista or in a convenience store downtown can’t even afford to live in the area. That’s absurd. Part of coupling a day access center with affordable housing is to offer those very workers and people living on little income the opportunity to live downtown and to be contributing members of our community.
Some have said the process is flawed, broken. Perhaps it is, but more importantly, the system is broken, and people continue to flock to Old Town/Chinatown for services. That’s not going to change anytime soon. But what can change is the way people are treated. For some, that may mean offering people dignity and respect; for others, that may mean getting people out of sight and out of mind, and some may be somewhere in between. Regardless, the day-access center is a way to bridge all of these differing points of view by offering something special, something that we as a community not only have the responsibility to do, but the responsibility to do right. We can do this together.