In the heart of downtown Portland, the Behavioral Health Resource Center — the first of its kind for Multnomah County — will soon open its doors to the public.
A stark contrast to the unused, gated-up O’Bryant Square park across the street, the health center is newly renovated and purposefully welcoming.
The Multnomah County Board of Commissioners approved the purchase of the building at 3rd Street and Park — and the adjacent parking lot — for $5.8 million in 2019. The center will start serving the public in early December.
The new resource center will have four floors: The first and second floors will host the drop-in day center, the third floor will serve as a 33-bed overnight shelter, and the fourth will hold a transitional housing project, called the Bridge Housing Program.
“People can come to the front door in any condition,” said Deandre Kenyanjui, the Office of Consumer Engagement coordinator.
Kenyanjui said the center is low-barrier, meaning people can seek mental health and addiction services even if they don’t have a formal diagnosis and regardless of sobriety. Organizers say the center and shelter services will be gender-inclusive and culturally responsive. The facility also accommodates pets.
People who seek services at the day center will have peer services from the moment they arrive, provided by people who have their own experience with mental health challenges and addictions.
“They’re able to bring a different level of compassion to the work, and also, they know what’s successful and they know what they’ve been traumatized by,” Kenyanjui said.
At the drop-in day center there will be a nurse for wound care. Also offered are art and cooking classes, charging stations, washers, lockers and showers. People can be connected to various types of mental health care, employment assistance, 12-step recovery and more.
According to Christa Jones, Senior Manager of Multnomah County’s Community Mental Health Program, the county’s first Behavioral Resource Center is in a part of downtown Portland with a lot of need.
“We’ve been working really closely with local businesses and neighbors to assure them that this actually will be a support,” Jones said. “These individuals, who we are going to be serving, are living there anyway.”
Supporters say that everything about the project is trauma-informed. All aspects of the space are meant to avoid a negative response, from the design, to the art, to the way security is addressed, to the greenspace created at the adjacent parking lot.
“What that means is really appreciating those trigger points that some folks might have, but also wanting folks to experience a welcome and safe space,” Jones said.
The project is costing the county $26 million. More than half is coming through the county general fund, with some of the project covered by additional state funding including $10 million in lottery bonds. Some of the funds will come in the form of a loan from the state. Over 55 people will be employed at the center.
The shelter will allow up to 30-day stays for people needing a place to sleep. The Bridge Housing Program offers a 19-bed shelter that people can stay at for up to 90 days while they are assisted in finding permanent housing.
“I’m a person with lived experience who often had been houseless and struggled with addiction, and I could only have dreamed of having a service like this available to navigate and get me to wellness,” Kenyanjui said. “People can and do recover with the right services in place.”
While the day center opens on Dec. 5, the shelter and Bridge Housing Program won’t be ready until next spring.