City leases Athens Hotel to house the homeless

From the Oregonian, December 4, 1987

The city will spend $168,000 over the next six months to house homeless people in the Athens Hotel for the winter, the board of the Portland Development Commission decided Thursday.

The five commissioners voted unanimously to lease the vacant, 100-room residential hotel as a way to open up space in the city’s emergency shelters, which already are nearly full.

Up to 200 people could live for free in the Athens, located at Northwest Sixth Avenue and Everett Street, said Samuel Galbreath, the development commission’s director of housing.

“The city sees this as a one-time response to a potentially critical situation . . . not a solution to homelessness,” Galbreath said. “This was felt to be a much better solution than just opening another warehouse for folks.”

The city will spend $30,000 to fix up the Athens and bring it up to code, with work beginning in about a week, Galbreath said. It will cost the city $23,000 a month to house the people and operate the hotel, which will have two managers on duty 24 hours a day. A social worker also will be on the staff.

The lease agreement with the hotel’s owner, Kalberer Hotel Supply Co., calls for the city to assume the owner’s tax and insurance expenses rather than pay monthly rent. The city will sublet the Athens to Central City Concern, which will manage the hotel.

A few unresolved insurance-policy details still stand in the way of the deal being finalized, Galbreath said. But he said he was optimistic that the plan would proceed as expected.

People who are making the emergency shelters their permanent homes are likely to be selected as residents of the Athens, Galbreath said. They will be chosen after being screened by shelter operators and should be living in the hotel by Christmas, he said.

Case workers will try to link residents with benefits, such as welfare or Social Security and medical and counseling programs, which would enable them to move out of the Athens and into more permanent housing, he said.

Ultimately, the city would like to have a network of low-income residential hotels for people who are able to live “semi-independently” but who are now living in emergency shelters, Galbreath said.

The shelters are intended for transients or people who need temporary help.

“Hopefully, a program will be in place by next year so we won’t need to do this again,” he said.

The opening of the Athens is just part of the city’s winter program for sheltering its homeless citizens, according to Galbreath. The city also will spend about $17,000 to install an outdoor recreation yard and covered waiting area adjacent to the Burnside Projects shelter at 435 N.W. Glisan St.

Galbreath said the yard was intended to get people off the street, where they now line up to await admission to the shelter.