By TED TAYLOR
CENTRAL OREGON DAILY NEWS
The City of Bend has started to explore the possibility of buying a local hotel to serve as a homeless shelter.
City councilors Wednesday voted unanimously to sign 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 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.
Anne Aurand, the city communications director, said the city needs the grant money before it can move forward.
Mayor Sally Russell 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.
“There are several different sites being considered right now,” she said. “We’ll have to see how it progresses before we say anything. We’re just giving council initial direction.”
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.
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.
Currently, the city is looking at a site in Juniper Ridge for a temporary transitional homeless shelter.
The potential location is north of Cooley Road, which would provide separation between the site and neighbors south of Juniper Ridge, according to the city.
The city owns 1,500 acres of land in the northern part of Bend off of Cooley Road.
At a city council meeting in late October, officials proposed turning six of those acres into a temporary transitional shelter site, where homeless individuals and families could safely camp this winter.
Russell said the idea of looking into a future hotel property is just another strategy to address a growing problem.
“We’re looking at different projects throughout the community,” she said. “There’s a range of needs to be addressed in our community so we’re looking at various solutions.”