Residents of Portland’s Riverton neighborhood said Tuesday that they were disappointed that city councilors chose the area as the final location for a new homeless shelter with up to 150 beds.

The choice also was criticized Tuesday by some of the people staying at the city’s current shelter who said they are concerned that the new location is five miles from downtown.

John McGovern, a lifelong resident of Riverton, said he and other residents felt like the selection of 654 Riverside St., was a forgone conclusion ever since the council changed zoning two years ago to allow shelters in certain industrial and business zones. But he said that doesn’t make the council’s decision any easier to stomach.

McGovern said dozens of neighborhood residents expressed the same concerns about hosting the shelter as people in other neighborhoods that successfully convinced councilors to change course. They said 150 people in one facility would lead to more crime and deteriorate their quality of life. And, they argued, it would not be good for the people being served.

“I feel like we got sold out,” McGovern said. “We fought just as hard as every other community and as far as I’m concerned they just totally disrespected us.”

Other residents were baffled by City Councilor Brian Batson’s vote, which put the proposal over the top after a long debate. The council approved the site on 5-4 vote. Batson had written a newspaper column opposing the initial proposal to build a 200-bed shelter at the city-owned Barron Center on Brighton Avenue, saying it was too far from downtown. He also advocated for the city to build several smaller shelters instead of one larger facility.

“I am in shock that Brian Batson voted the way he did,” Riverton resident Stephanie Neuts said.

Batson said Tuesday that he changed his mind after realizing the council only supported a single shelter and there was no suitable location available downtown. He also said the need for a new shelter was too urgent to delay.

Rick Mace, 57, who, until recently was homeless for 15 years, poses outside the Oxford Street Shelter on Tuesday. Mace said he opposes the city’s plan to relocate its shelter to the outskirts of town. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Across town, the reaction was far different among some Bayside residents who have been eager for the city to move forward with a replacement.

Sarah Michniewicz, a longtime resident of Cedar Street and president of the Bayside Neighborhood Association, said she is pleased the council chose a location outside their neighborhood for a new shelter. Bayside is currently home to several shelters that serve over 500 people a day, as well as other social services.

Michniewicz said she was happy that, after years of talk about replacing the shelter, city leaders finally acted. At times she worried that councilors would delay a decision and punt it to another working group or task force.

“There were quite a few moments I was personally near tears,” she said about Monday’s council meeting. “We put all this time, energy and effort to getting closer to balance in our neighborhood and that might not happen.”

City officials have struggled to ease concerns by explaining how the new shelter would be different that the Oxford Street Shelter in Bayside.

The current shelter, a converted three-story apartment building and auto garage leased by the city, can accommodate 154 people sleeping on floor mats. It routinely exceeds capacity, so 75 mats are set up at Preble Street, a nearby nonprofit. Sometimes, the city’s General Assistance office is used as additional overflow space. The current shelter lacks a soup kitchen and space for counseling and other services, and has been described as unsafe for both staff and clients.

City officials envision an entirely new model at Riverside Street – a single-story facility with a private outdoor courtyard. It would have a soup kitchen, medical clinic, community policing station and rooms from area service providers to meet with clients to work on housing, employment, mental health, substance use and other issues.

The city also plans to use a van to help people get to appointments in town.

But Riverton residents fail to see how such a facility can be successful in their neighborhood. The site is a quarter mile from the bus stop on Forest Avenue and the area lacks sidewalks, lighting and traffic signals for people to safely walk there.

The site is in an industrial area and abuts a river, which residents fear will only encourage more people to camp out, rather than access services offered at the shelter. They’re also worried about people drowning or overdosing on drugs and not being found.

Riverton resident Tamara Duvnjak believes the site is too far from emergency services. “I am ashamed of the way the (councilors) voted because their vote for the Riverside site was an injustice to the homeless population of Portland and showed that the voices of ordinary people mean nothing,” Duvnjak said in an email.

Other area residents are worried about possible impacts on Riverton Elementary School.

“It’s a great neighborhood we live in,” Jon Dyer said. “There’s a lot of kids. It makes us worried.”

People currently staying at the Oxford Street Shelter, as well as others who have struggled with homelessness, also expressed concerns about a shelter being located that far out of town. They questioned whether people would be able to make it into town for necessary appointments, and suggested the site was chosen as a way to keep homelessness away from the center of the city.

Nick Vinciguerra, 46, poses on Cedar Street on Tuesday. He was homeless until recently, but preferred to sleep outdoors rather than at the Oxford Street Shelter. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

“Out of sight, out of mind,” said 46-year-old Nick Vinciguerra, who was homeless before moving in with his girlfriend.

“How are people going to get to town if they can’t afford the bus,” said a 73-year-old man who would only give his first name, Cliff. At the same time, however, he doesn’t blame residents for being concerned. “Would you want this in your backyard?”

Daniel Tinkham, 59, said he’s been in and out of the Oxford Street Shelter for the last year and a half. His current stay is approaching 90 days. He doesn’t think it will be that difficult for people to catch a bus into town, but he does think wooded areas nearby will attract campers.

“There’s all kinds of places you can find out there to camp,” Tinkham said. “It ain’t gonna change that any. I don’t think it’s big enough.”

Donald Woodworth, 46, was more optimistic. While other guests criticized shelter staff, Woodworth praised the city for its recent efforts to address issues at the shelter. He thinks a capacity of 150 beds is too small, given that the current demand can exceed 229 people a night.

Woodworth has been homeless by choice since the age of 15, he said. He described Oxford Street as a “war zone” two years ago, but said the city had turned it around. He trusts city leaders are making decisions that are in the best interest of the people at the shelter.

“Let’s make it happen,” Woodworth said.

Now that a site has been selected, the council’s Health & Human Services and Public Safety Committee will begin meeting to discuss the city’s policies and procedures for the new shelter. That discussion will address shelter capacity, on-site services and eligibility standards for those services.

The city’s long-standing policy is to provide shelter to anyone in need. As a result, the shelter is used by people from all over the state and region. The city has tried to collect money from other communities that rely on the shelter, but has not been successful. Some city leaders want to limit access in the future.

Councilor Belinda Ray, who chairs the committee, said that policy discussion will begin next week. “We’ll stick with it until we get it done,” she said.

Michniewicz, of the Bayside Neighborhood Association, understands that Riverton residents are upset. But she said Bayside residents plan to stay involved in the process and offer the insight they have gained from hosting the shelter for three decades.

She stressed that the model being considered for Riverton is completely different from what currently exists in Bayside.

“I hope people in Riverton feel like they can reach out to us if they have questions or concerns about our experience and how this might operate,” she said.

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