Unused Wapato Jail Turned Homeless Re-entry Shelter

What was once the Wapato Corrections Facility opened its doors as Bybee Lakes Hope Center, a homeless re-entry shelter set to officially open on Oct. 12. 

The building is 57,000-sqaure-feet and located in North Portland. It will have 84 beds during the first stage of opening, then 400 more beds for long-term housing expected in December.  

The building of Wapato cost $58 million of taxpayer money and sat empty for 16 years. In 2018, Multnomah County sold it to developer Marty Kehoe for $5 million. Developer Jordan Schnitzer purchased it from Kehoe, and tried to convert the building into a homeless shelter for years, running into opposition along the way. Last year, he believed that the building would probably be demolished by 2020. 

At a press conference in front of the center – now called Bybee Lakes Hope Center, Schnitzer said, “This really is a testament to a dream.”

Bybee Lakes Hope Center will be the fourth homeless re-entry center in the state run by Helping Hands Re-entry Outreach Centers 

Raven Russell, the Director of Data and Major Projects for Helping Hands Re-entry Outreach Centers, said at the conference that many people did not think the project would ever be completed. Lack of accesses to public transit was one of the big concerns that has since been resolved. He also said the timeline of the project was hurried to be able to help those affected by the coronavirus.  

CEO of Helping Hands, Alan Evans, said a data-driven, trauma-informed homeless re-entry program was created by his company and will be used at Bybee Lakes Hope Center. 

“This is a tad bit surreal for me,” Evans said at the press conference. “Because 20 years ago I was sleeping under the Burnside Bridge where I nearly froze to death one night.” 

According to Evans, the most difficult thing at that time was not being able to get all his needs met in one place, and that the new facility will work on many levels to address the individuals needs of people experiencing homelessness. 

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, and Oregon State Sens. Lew Frederick, Betsy Johnson, and Elizabeth Steiner-Hayward were present for the ribbon cutting ceremony.  

According to Wheeler, the community was able to achieve something the government could not do on their own. 

Frederick said to OregonLive that on a walk earlier he had seen six tents with people living in them in a span of two blocks. 

 “These are folks I would like to be able to say, here’s an opportunity, here’s a place where you can go,” Frederick said. “It’s not just a program, it’s not just a facility, it’s a basic concept that we do care.” 

By: Hannah Ramsey