A homeless man sits on a Congress Street bench in downtown Portland. (Portland Phoenix file/Jim Neuger)
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Portland officials are finalizing a request for proposals for a long-planned homeless shelter on Riverside Street, to be leased from a private entity. 

Approved by the City Council in June 2019, with policy guidelines adopted a year ago, the proposed 200-bed shelter is still essentially in the concept phase. City Manager Jon Jennings has also told the council and various committees federal or state funding for the project has essentially disappeared, which is why the city is pursuing a public-private partnership.

Greg Mitchell, the city’s housing and economic development director, said the city will continue to explore external funding from the state and federal governments, but those do not appear likely.

Jennings recently told the council’s Housing and Economic Development Committee he does not believe the city should be in the business of owning non-revenue-producing assets. He pointed to the Police Department headquarters as an example of a building the city owns, which does not produce revenue, and has costs for improvements that he called “staggering.”

The draft RFP states the so-called homeless services center 654 Riverside St. would provide “complete wraparound services” including counseling, food, and laundry. It would have a multi-purpose room for 200 people, which would also serve as the dining area for buffet-style service. There would be a 200-space locker room, and men’s, women’s, and gender-neutral bathrooms and shower areas. There will be three or four meeting rooms for classes and activities.

The one-story building would be open 24/7 and replace the Oxford Street Shelter, which is not owned by the city and requires residents to leave with their personal belongings each morning. Clients often end up sleeping on floor mats at the downtown shelter because of the lack of space in the three-story building.

The draft RFP estimates the preliminary annual cost of a 20-year lease would range from $1 million to $1.4 million. After that, the city would take ownership of the building. It goes on to say the city would consider a 30-year lease if the cost was closer to $500,000-$800,000 per year.

Proposals would be judged on a 100-point scale. Experience factors will count for up to 60 points, and the cost arrangement will make up the remaining 40 points.

Jennings said the coronavirus pandemic forced the city to reevaluate how the proposed shelter could be designed. The new shelter would contain 144 beds for men, 60 for women, and have 6 feet between each one to accommodate social distancing.

“We don’t know if we’ll ever return to the traditional facility we were looking at before,” he said.

Jennings will create a selection committee to review and rank proposals. Because the RFP has not been published, there is no deadline for proposals. Jennings said the city will bring a final draft of the RFP or a request for qualifications to the Housing and Economic Development Committee for guidance, and would then publish it. It would not have to go to the full council for approval.

Following the bidding period, the committee will vote on which proposal to forward to the council, which will make the ultimate decision.

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