▶️ Grant money to help City of Bend buy motel for future homeless shelter

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Bend City Councilors on Wednesday unanimously approved a plan to buy the Old Mill Inn & Suites on SE Third Street and transition it to a homeless shelter.

The move is contingent on grant funding and the city would partner with local service providers, such as NeighborImpact, to run the 64-unit facility. The purchase price will not exceed $5 million.

In December, the council signed a letter of intent to purchase a facility and authorize partners to begin the three-phase grant application process for funding through the Oregon Community Foundation.

The sale of the property must close by June 30th.

Economic Development Director Carolyn Eagan says some upgrades are needed. But overall, the facility is in good condition.

“We have been onsite. We have had conversations with the seller’s broker. We have pulled building permits, so we have some sense that condition of the building is as described by the seller,” Eagan said.

The visual inspection of the building that was done gave us a little idea of what upgrades may need to be done; to broadly believe that the property and the building were in good enough condition to move forward with the purchase and sale agreement.

The OCF’s “Project Turnkey” was established by the Legislature with the purpose of turning motels/hotels into “non-congregate shelter for people experiencing homelessness or at-risk of homelessness.”

There’s $35 million available to 28 Oregon counties for such use.

Mayor Sally Russell has said the idea would be similar to the Bethlehem Inn, which started as a temporary winter homeless shelter at local churches before moving into an old hotel property acquired by Deschutes County in 2007.

According to the Central Oregon Homeless Leadership Coalition’s point-in-time count in January, nearly 1,000 people were experiencing homelessness – a 10% jump from 2019.

Bethlehem Inn

In addition to the tight closing timeline, Bend Development Code amendments are needed to locate transitional housing facilities like this in Bend.

Those changes include removing a provision for 1,000 feet of separation between temporary housing sites (which includes temporary shelters) and allowing transitional shelter sites as a permitted use in certain commercial zones, particularly along Third Street, without requiring a conditional use permit.

Hearings on those proposals are set for March 8th and 17th.

A transitional shelter in a location like this provides residents with safe and sanitary living conditions, centralized critical services, and access to transit and employment opportunities.

“This process started with last council, and this council is happy to move it forward,” said Councilor Melanie Kebler. “We have heard from our community the big outcry for services from people who are experiencing homelessness including more shelter options. More types of shelter and more ways for people to move toward safety and stability. I think community support is big reason why this project is moving forward.”

Temporary warming shelters have opened in recent weeks to ease the burden during the cold winter months, but homeless advocates for years have pointed to the need for more stable and permanent solutions.

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