Portland, OR

Should the Lloyd Center mall be converted into a homeless shelter?

Rose Bak

As residents debate ideas for the mall's future, many see a homeless shelter as the perfect option.

Photo courtesy of Lloyd Center Mall

It's not news that the Lloyd Center Mall has been dying a long, slow death for many years now.

Once considered one of the premier shopping malls in the country, Lloyd Center started to decline several years ago. Major anchor stores like Nordstrom's, Macy's, and Sears jumped ship, and many of the smaller shops followed. The COVID-19 pandemic struck the final death knell to the once-great mall.

Recently KKR Real Estate and Finance Trust announced that the mall's owners, a Texas-based commercial real estate firm called EB Arrow, had defaulted on repayment of renovation loans totaling over $110 million. The lender announced that it plans to repossess the mall.

News of the repossession and inevitable mall closure sparked widespread debate about the future of the site. Lloyd Center encompasses twenty-three acres of prime real estate in inner northeast Portland. It's conveniently located next to mass transit, the freeways, and the Oregon Convention Center, and the Moda Center, making it an attractive location for anything from a major league baseball stadium to hotels to office space.

While KKR Real Estate and Finance Trust has signaled its intention to redevelop the site into a mix of residential properties and office space, many Portlanders who are frustrated by Portland's ever-growing homelessness crisis are asking the question: Why not turn Lloyd Center into a homeless shelter and navigation center?

The City of Portland and Multnomah County are currently spending a combined total of $150 million on homeless services in the county, with an additional $38 million recently added to the pot. The City is struggling to find locations for its planned six "Safe Rest" villages, and so-called "sweeps" of high-impact homeless camps only serve to move the problem a few blocks away.

Photo courtesy of Lloyd Center Mall

Could Lloyd Center be a viable option to get homeless people off the street?

In addition to its large real estate footprint, advocates not that Lloyd Center appears to be a site that could easily be converted to a homeless shelter and navigation center.

The building has 1,472,000 square feet of indoor space, with 178 separate stores on three levels.

Smaller stores could easily be converted into small living spaces to be shared by two or more individuals, couples, or families with children. Many of the retail shops have separate toilet areas for employees, and the common areas of the mall have large restroom facilities that could be adapted to add shower rooms.

Larger stores could be converted into congregate shelter spaces and a navigation center with social services offices, healthcare, and mental health and addiction services.

Existing food court facilities could be used to serve meals and offer job training or volunteer opportunities for homeless guests.

In addition to the indoor space, Lloyd Center Mall has expansive parking lots for guest parking.
Some of the lots could be converted to "safe parking" sites where campers and cars could be parked, getting vehicles off of residential streets.

The site is also attractive because it's close to downtown services, one of the criticisms of other homeless navigation centers and shelters such as Wapato, now known as Bybee Lakes Hopes Center. With easy access to bus and MAX trains, the site would also be convenient for guests to travel to employment.

Photo courtesy of Lloyd Center Mall

There would be hurdles to using the site. Parts of the building have fallen into disrepair and converting stores to even bare-bones shelter spaces would take money.

Even if the City used the "homeless state of emergency" to waive zoning requirements, a large-scale homeless center on the site would no doubt draw the ire of neighboring businesses and residents.

A site of that size that could serve hundreds of people would also require a significant investment in staffing. Ongoing staffing costs are generally the largest part of any shelter or navigation center's budget.

Portland residents are increasingly calling for City and County leaders to do something innovative that would move the needle on the homelessness crisis. For some, converting the Lloyd Center Mall site to serve the homeless is a no-brainer.

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Rose Bak is a freelance writer who lives in Portland, Oregon with her family and special needs dogs. She writes on a variety of topics including local news, homelessness, poverty, relationships, yoga, and aging. She is also a published author of romantic fiction. For more of Rose's work, visit her website at rosebakenterprises.com or follow her on social media @AuthorRoseBak.

Portland, OR

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