Solve Homelessness or Go Golf

Two initial positions. 

  1. Most people who are chronically homeless became homeless as a direct result of untreated alcoholism, addiction, and mental illness. Rehousing them prior to remission is a set up for repeat failure. Those persons overwhelm the homeless service system which wasn’t designed to help them, and routinely rejects their needs. Equally, treatment providers for these illnesses are unable to sustain effective service to persons who are in crisis – such as homelessness.

  2. There is no plan, or plan in the pipeline to solve homelessness to the satisfaction of our community in any significant way. The standard “Housing First” solution is astoundingly expensive – beyond $400 per square foot,* and not including attached services. And it is entirely reliant on a moribund public sector development process. Adding congregate shelters – public or private – without a plan for where people go afterward is a short term solution for a long term problem. Development of shelters causes “sight out of mind” but not the infusion of funding necessary to solve the problem. Further, expansion may imperil Federal funding for long-term housing. 

It’s time to decommission Rose City Golf Course and solve homelessness in Portland. 

Strategic funding earned from selling Rose City Golf Course would eliminate significant blockades to current set of homeless services and housing continuum of care which are overwhelmed by demand in two areas: long-term transitional housing for recovering addicts and alcoholics, and short-term housing as an alternative to hospitalization for people with severe and persistent mental illness. 

Radically reducing these two overwhelming demands will quickly open access to people in all other areas and concerns to the already existing service system – including youth, people with mobility disabilities, people in need of permanent supportive housing, and our elders. Funding the models below and these levels could reduce homelessness in Portland by 50% or more in the next five years, and make the current service system dependable and manageable. 

The Rose City Golf Course is 150.72 acres. Adjoining Rose City Park and Glenhaven Parks are an additional 40+ acres, and with Marshall High School are a significant amount of park land and open space in the area. 

150 acres is 6,534,000 square feet or 1300 100×50 lots – size of a typical Portland home lot. 1300 lots sold at $80,000 will reap over $100,000,000. Those funds should entirely be spent to right-size the homelessness system by investing in the following two models. 

Invest 50% – $50,000,000 – in Oxford Houses

The city of Portland should spend $50,000,000 no interest down payments + loan guarantees + amenities @ $100,000 to to assist area peer nonprofits organizations purchase 500 homes over five years suitable for Oxford House Model to be occupied by 8 persons each creating 4000 NEW units of long term transitional housing for people in early recovery from addiction and alcoholism.

 

Invest 50% – $50,000,000 – for peer respite housing & continuing support

The city of Portland should spend $25,000,000 to purchase 25 homes over five years suitable for peer respite housing @ $500,000 each. The City should then lease these homes @ $1 per year to peer nonprofits organizations able to bill Medicaid to provide short-term housing for up to 200 people at one time in mental health crisis. An additional $10,000,000 should be spent over ten years on capital development of three peer agencies – staffing, infrastructure, etc. and continuing education for both public agencies and private philanthropy to provide continuing support. The remaining $15,000,000 should be spent over 25 years for sustaining grants for bridge peer services – bringing immediate help into the homes of those at highest risk for homelessness. 

Likely objections to this proposal

Objection – Golf is great. 

Portland has five public golf courses, none of which pay for themselves and all of which are underused. There are plenty of inexpensive private golf courses – which no longer discriminate on the basis of sex or race or religion – available. We can’t preserve public golf at the cost of the health and welfare of thousands of our neighbors. 

Objection – New development doesn’t suit Rose City. 

The Rose City neighborhood was designed from day one to be single lot and apartment housing. But neighbors should have much say as to the design of development – as long as decommissioning proceeds space and property is sold at a competitive price. Park land at Rose City and Glenhaven Parks and walking area around Marshall High School match comparable neighborhoods. 

Objection – We don’t want the homeless in our neighborhood. 

Pure selfishness. Over 150 Oxford Houses are already spread out and fully integrated into just about every neighborhood in Portland. They have zero negative impact in their neighborhoods. Peer respite is a well-researched model of urgent housing which reduces both hospitalization and homelessness. Peer respite benefits us all. 

Objection – After decommissioning a city park, money should go elsewhere – not to the homeless.

The enemy of new public policy ideas are politicians. They don’t solve problems – they move money around. There has never been a more urgent problem in Portland than homelessness, and after decades of mis-management of both funds and programs by politicians, grifters and other manipulators, the problem is worse than ever. So this proposal is vulnerable to plundering. 

 

* Home Forward – Portland’s housing authority – opened the Louisa Flowers in November 2019, which cost $74,000,000 with 240 units and 180,000 square feet – $411 a square foot. Some amount of that might be retail space. Rents are listed as “affordable” and not actual amounts. No units are designated for people leaving homeless, or for disabled persons, or persons in recovery from mental illness or addiction.