The Hermiston City Council heard plans Monday night for a zoning amendment in what could be the first step toward developing a temporary emergency shelter for the area’s homeless population.
Monday’s council work session follows earlier discussions about providing a shelter for the homeless, first proposed by Stepping Stones, a local nonprofit in Hermiston. Property owned by Agape House is being considered for the shelter, but City Planner Clint Spencer told the council the proposed land is zoned for light industrial and currently does not allow for this type of use.
Spencer outlined steps the city would need to take to amend the code to allow the shelter to be located in the light industrial zone, including public hearings by the Hermiston Planning Commission and the city council before any amendment could take effect.
Cathy Lloyd, chair of the Stepping Stones, told the council her group was fine with most of the recommendations, but shared concerns about some of the requirements including the number of available showers and bathrooms. The draft of the proposed code amendment calls for one shower for every 10 shelters and one toilet for every eight shelters. The initial draft of the code amendment calls for up to 45 shelters or huts, but the final number has not been determined.
“Bathrooms and showers are expensive,” she said. “It’s something we want, but we would like to open without it.” Lloyd said the Agape House facility has two flushing toilets on site and a shower facility and suggested that port-a-pots could be used in the interim until funds are available to expand the number of toilets and showers.
Mayor Dave Drotzmann suggested limiting the number of shelters at the start, and add more as money becomes available.
Lloyd also said no drugs, alcohol or weapons would be allowed and that a program will be in place to help those with substance abuse problems. The goal, said Lloyd, is to provide people with the skills and help they need so they can transition into becoming productive members of the community.
Councilor Doug Primmer said he was concerned about having enough volunteers to keep the shelter running on a daily basis.
“I know the warming station can’t operate every night because there aren’t always enough volunteers,” he said.
Lloyd said there will be hired staff and only a small number of volunteers will be needed during check-in and check-out. The plan calls for those using the shelter to check in 30 minutes prior to dusk and check out by 8:30 a.m. The daytime hours will be used to clean and maintain the facility.
The program proposed by Stepping Stones is based on a similar program in Walla Walla, which currently has more than 30 huts. The huts are insulated but without electricity or plumbing. Lloyd said Stepping Stones initially would like to have 25 huts at a cost of $1,200 per hut.
The group is also asking the city to help with start-up and operational costs. The council has yet to make a final decision on its contribution, but has agreed to provide staff time to research and prepare for the needed land-use process to allow for a temporary emergency shelter on the property.
The planning department will work with Stepping Stones and make changes to the draft amendment to address issues brought up by the council and the nonprofit prior to the next public review.