The issue of homelessness was the topic of a joint work session Monday night between the Hermiston City Council, Umatilla City Council, and the Umatilla County Board of Commissioners.
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.
“This region has been concerned about this issue and has been trying to address the needs of the homeless,” said Hermiston City Manager Bryon Smith.
There is a ticking clock regarding the pilot project. 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.
During Monday’s work session, it was announced that a 2-acre site at the corner of Bensel and Lind Roads was identified as the location for the proposed shelter. The city of Umatilla would lease the land from the county. All three entities – Hermiston, Umatilla and Umatilla County – would be responsible for selecting a third party 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 goal is to move people toward permanent housing,” said Umatilla City Manager David Stockdale.
A Request for Proposals is expected to go out within the next week with a contract awarded by the end of July.
“We hope to have some sort of operations at the facility by November,” said Stockdale.
The $1 million grant will be used to develop a strategic plan, hire a third-party manager and if any money remains, it would be used toward the construction of the facility, otherwise additional funds would be needed through grants or other means. Each of the eight communities selected for the pilot program will also have to identify ongoing funding for the facility.
“This is our opportunity to find a humane solution to help them transition into permanent housing,” said Hermiston Mayor Dave Drotzmann.
Hermiston resident Josh Roberts brought up a series of concerns he would like the group to focus on when developing a strategic plan for the facility, including:
- Who would be eligible?
- How long can they stay?
- What will security look like?
- How big will the facility eventually get in terms of residents? (It is estimated that there are more than 200 homeless people living in Umatilla County)
- Who will be liable?
State law requires each community to have a committee to provide oversight of the facility. Drotzmann said it should consist of a combination of publicly-elected officials and members of the community.
Hermiston City Councilor Nancy Peterson suggested that one member of the Umatilla council, Hermiston council and the Umatilla Board of Commissioners be part of the oversight committee.
As for community concerns surrounding a homeless shelter, Umatilla County Commissioner George Murdock said there is a facility near downtown Pendleton operated by CAPECO and there have been no complaints from the public.
Stockdale said he was part of a tour of a homeless facility in Salem which reportedly has an 80 percent success rate in getting homeless residents into permanent housing.
Drotzmann said homelessness is an issue facing the entire state of Oregon.
“This is not unique to the west end of Umatilla County,” he said. “It’s every city, every municipality in the state of Oregon that is dealing with the outcome of this (Martin v. Boise) decision.”