Columbia CEO to pay $1.5 million for new downtown Portland homeless shelter

Columbia CEO to pay $1.5 million for new downtown Portland homeless shelter

Columbia Sportswear chief executive Tim Boyle plans to pay $1.5 million to jumpstart construction of a 100-bed homeless shelter and services center on city-owned land under the Broadway Bridge, officials will announce today. 

The shelter, which officials are calling a “navigation center,” is intended to offer the homeless a place to sleep, eat and bathe plus connections to health care and social services.

Boyle’s gift will be paid as a donation to Oregon Harbor of Hope, a nonprofit run by real estate developers working to find solutions to Portland’s intractable homelessness problem.

“This project is an important step forward, providing assistance to Oregonians who need services and support and who deserve our compassion,” Boyle said on Monday in a statement to The Oregonian/OregonLive. “This investment is an example of how governments, the private sector, philanthropic communities and nonprofit service providers can come together to improve the city and region for all who live here."

One of Oregon’s few billionaires, Boyle has been a vocal critic of the city’s approach to the homeless in downtown. He said in an op-ed published in The Oregonian last November that workers at Columbia-owned bootmaker Sorel had been intimidated by homeless people and bothered by detritus left on sidewalks by the homeless. Boyle threatened to relocate Sorel and voiced support for Mayor Ted Wheeler’s request to hire at least 80 more police officers to help regulate homeless people’s conduct and downtown crime. 

Several major American cities, particularly San Francisco, operate homeless navigation centers. Former Portland Mayor Charlie Hales proposed building one in Portland in 2016, but the plan never became a reality. Josh Alpert, then Hales’ chief of staff, said at the time that opening the shelter was “too expensive, too complicated, and in the end, not worth it for our purposes.”

Wheeler, who took over after Hales, supports the navigation center concept and public-private partnerships aimed at tackling homelessness, spokesman Michael Cox said Monday.

“Homelessness is a humanitarian crisis unfolding on our streets, and demands a community-wide response,” Wheeler said in a statement to The Oregonian/OregonLive. “I want to send the message that if you have ideas, or resources or expertise – and you want to put them to work addressing homelessness – government can be an effective partner.”

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