Multnomah County Sheriff Bernie Guisto has suggested using the new and unused Wapato correctional facility in North Portland as a refugee center for displaced Gulf Coast residents. Portland officials should not hesitate to follow his advice. Hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens have been displaced from their homes, and this $58 million housing facility remains vacant.
Originally constructed as a medium security jail, there is no reason why the facility cannot be temporarily converted into a refugee center. Wapato has 525 empty beds arranged in dormitory-style housing. It also features group recreation areas, over 400 evergreen trees, a cafeteria, medical facilities, individual showers, telephones, and $600,000 worth of publicly-financed artwork.
This is not a time for wrangling over the political correctness of using a jail to house refugees. Wapato has never held any prisoners, it does not currently hold prisoners, and according to the facility’s most recent annual report, it is not likely to hold any prisoners “in the foreseeable future.” Its physical appearance more closely resembles a community college than the maximum security federal prisons we are accustomed to seeing on television.
Alternative shelters such as the abandoned Washington-Monroe High School in Southeast Portland, or the Astrodome in Houston, were never designed to house people, and lack the amenities of Wapato. Local officials should open the doors to Wapato in this time of need.
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