Alan Evans and Raven Russell of Helping Hands, a nonprofit serving homeless and other low-income people struggling with housing, are well known for their work in Clatsop County.

But with the Bybee Lakes Hope Center in Portland, Helping Hands moves to a new stage.

Russell, Evans and facility director Jeff Woodward joined the Seaside Chamber of Commerce in an electronic meeting last Wednesday to share the evolution of the former 18-acre, 155,000-square-foot Wapato Jail to a transitional housing facility providing beds for up to 525 people.

Helping Hands hopes to start housing residents in September, opening a portion of the building with 72 beds, Russell said. They plan to provide 300 beds by the end of the year.

In addition to Bybee Lakes, Helping Hands facilities in Astoria, Tillamook and Lincoln City could provide an additional 100 beds by 2021.

“This model is frankly historic for our community,” Woodward said. “Right now trying to get services is like trying to run an obstacle course. Under the best of circumstances it’s difficult. When you’re homeless it exacerbates everything, of course.”

With the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, he added, homelessness is expected to increase 45% to 65% in the next six months.

Built in 2003 as a minimum security correctional facility and costing $58 million, the jail never opened, Woodward said.

Advocates like Woodward and others worked with property owner Jordan Schnitzer, who purchased the property. .

Schnitzer met Evans at a United Way of Clatsop County fundraiser in Seaside. Together, they joined to save the building to provide transitional housing and trauma-informed services in one location.

Schnitzer leased the property to Helping Hands for $1 per year.

Additional money has come from fundraisers and private donors, Russell said. So far, the project has raised about $4 million, with a goal of $7.2 million in January.

Shelter will be provided by referral only. All residents must be clean and sober and cannot be registered as sex offenders.

Raven Russell of Helping Hands Reentry Outreach Centers at a Seaside Chamber of Commerce Zoom meeting July 22.

About 10% of the population is expected to be children, Russell said.

The center will have business and service operations like job-hunting and counseling.

The center is working with Oregon Health & Science University, the University of Portland and nursing schools to offer medical services on-site. “We don’t have a model like this in the Portland area. We have an opportunity to make a really big difference here, but that’s only possible because we’ve proved the concept on the coast.”

LEFT: Alan Evans, executive director of Helping Hands. RIGHT: Raven Russell of Helping Hands in a Zoom meeting with the Seaside Chamber of Commerce.

Russell is based in Portland, while Evans works in Seaside.

“We’re really grateful for the Seaside, Clatsop County community,” Russell told the Seaside Chamber of Commerce. “You’re our home. This is where we started, and this is where we proved that this collaborative model really works.”

Evans attributed a data-driven approach to the success of Helping Hands. “Every decision in our organization is made by data given to us,” he said.

The Helping Hands homeless reentry model could work in any community on a scalable level, he said.

“We have a history of what works,” Evans said. “Every decision is based on the information of the people who get sent to us. We’re talking to other cities now about bringing this model to other places. It gives us the opportunity to build a platform and a mapping opportunity to bring resources to people. That’s what’s made us successful.”

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