Council Votes in Favor of Housing, Homeless Shelter & HEROS

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The Hermiston City Council had a short, but impactful meeting Monday night with votes that will affect housing availability, the homeless, as well as youth sporting events.

The council unanimously passed an ordinance that approves the formation of the Southwest Hermiston Urban Renewal Area which paves the way for a massive new housing development out where C&B Livestock used to be.

As many as 1,300 new housing units could be built over time with space donated by the developer for parks, trails, a food truck pod and other amenities. The developer, Luke Pickerill of Monte Vista Homes, will also donate land to be set aside for a future school and fire station.

But first, several expensive improvements must be made including building a 2-million gallon water storage reservoir, constructing a one-mile water main and sewer main to reach the property, as well as developing a 40-acre park that would benefit the entire community. The total cost for the improvements is more than $12 million. The new urban renewal agency will allow the city to divert new tax dollars for a set period of time to pay for the improvements.

The council also passed a resolution allowing City Manager Byron Smith to sign an intergovernmental agreement with the cities of Umatilla, Echo and Stanfield as well as Umatilla County to establish temporary shelter for the homeless. The project’s name is PATH – Practical Assistance through Transitional Housing.

West Umatilla County is one of eight communities in the state selected to take part in a pilot program to develop and operate homeless shelters. Each of the eight communities will receive a $1 million grant to develop a program to provide transitional housing for the homeless with the goal of moving them toward permanent housing.

In 2018, the 9th Circuit Court ruled in the case Martin v. Boise that jurisdictions must provide a location for the homeless if community ordinances prohibit the homeless from camping in public places such as parks. In 2021, the Oregon Legislature made that ruling state law with a July 2023 deadline to implement a transitional housing program for the homeless.

A 2-acre site at the corner of Bensel and Lind Roads has been identified as the location for the proposed shelter. The city of Umatilla would lease the land from the county. A third party – the nonprofit Stepping Stones – has been selected to operate the facility.

Plans call for an office space with a common area, shower and meal facilities and, at least initially, 12 sleeping huts. The facility would also include assistance with basic medical, dental and vision services as well as drug and alcohol counseling. Other services would include transportation to work or school.

The $1 million grant is being used to develop a strategic plan, hire Stepping Stones to operate the facility. Any money left over would be used toward the construction of the facility, otherwise additional funds would be needed through grants or other means.

Mayor Dave Drotzmann reminded the council that there is a long-term commitment to this project and resources will be needed to keep the shelter going long term. He also commended the council and its partners for working to find a solution to help the homeless get back on their feet.

“I’m proud of the agreement that was reached,” he said. “I’m proud that we’re working together as a region. I especially appreciate the other cities as well as our county partner in trying to address the need within our community. I think this has been recognized across the state as one of our number one priorities that we need to address. It’s not done, obviously, but at least we have a path forward.”

City Manager Byron Smith said the shelter will likely be ready in February, but Stepping Stones has found a location – the former Sears building on Highway 395 – to serve as a warming station during the winter months.

Drotzmann suggested a ground-breaking ceremony sometime in the near future.

“This is monumental,” he said. “I think some sort of ceremony would be appropriate.”

The council on Monday also approved an agreement with the local nonprofit Made to Thrive to lease a portion of Eastern Oregon Trade & Event Center (EOTEC) for the use of a multi-sport complex. The lease was tabled at the last council meeting in order to add some language that allows the fields to be used for parking during the fair and other large-scale events.

The complex will be called HEROS, short for Hermiston Oregon Sportsplex.

The coalition behind the project intends to develop multiple lighted fields for soccer, lacrosse, football and other sports with the goal of having it ready for the spring of 2023.

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