With No Plan for Emergency Shelter, Deadline Approaches

Currently without an identified location, an emergency cold weather shelter may not be on the docket this upcoming winter for Corvallis’ most needy homeless men. Last winter’s shelter was provided by Corvallis Housing First at their 4th Street facility, but they have bowed out for this coming season. No other location has been found. The women’s emergency shelter is slated to continue on.

Efforts to change this have been underway since December, but progress has been slow thus far and there have been some dashed hopes.

When asked in May whether or not Corvallis will have an emergency shelter in place by Nov. 1, Benton County Commissioner Anne Schuster said, “I’m not counting my chickens yet. All this stuff is kind of tricky but we are working on it and I think we are making good progress.”

Schuster explained that beyond the Housing Opportunities Action Council (HOAC) working groups and committees, there were negotiations underway that needed a light touch and opted to keep them out of the spotlight.

Mayor Biff Traber said that since then, “We had thought we were making progress towards a long-term location that looked like it would work quite well, but earlier this month we got word that wasn’t going to happen. We are now in the mode of going in to what we refer to as Plan B.”

“The movement right now is to look at temporary structures,” said Shawn Collins, the HOAC program manager. “We have talked with folks from the Fire Department, Public Works, and community development staff that are responsible for building codes and talked about what kind of temporary structure would be suitable.”

Collins said that after considering everything from military-style tents to geodesic domes and yurts, modular units seem to be the best both in terms of upfront cost and permitting fees.

“I think that part of the challenge we have is that any temporary structure needs a location, so one of the things on my plate right now is really focusing on property and finding a suitable location,” he said.

Traber echoed this concern.

“We still remain very challenged that we don’t have a site and we’re out continuing to look for, and hoping the community can help us, with finding a place either we can rent for one season or a flat area that could be used with some modulars as a temporary one-year solution,” he said.

He explained that the community can get involved by “helping us identify a property owner who is willing to lease us the kind of space we need.”

One thing to consider is that despite the numerous properties available within and in close proximity to Corvallis, zoning codes are another limiting factor.

“There are not many pieces of property that are for lease within the city limits or that are zoned appropriately for Social Service use,” explained Collins. He has placed calls to several property agents and written letters of interest to some property owners whose land is not yet on the market.

“I think the target for the shelter is 49 a night, that has been the capacity in the past,” Collins said. “Part of the challenge there is that in order to house 40 men under the relevant permit codes, we have to have 50 square feet per person available in the shelter, so that kind of sets some boundaries on the amount of space we are trying to achieve.”

In other words, Corvallis will need multiple modular units or multiple locations to facilitate all comers.

“We have always talked with the City and County about the challenge of staffing multiple buildings or multiple sites,” said Collins. “Whether it is two modular buildings, two fixed buildings, or multiple church sites, it changes the staffing model and that changes the cost model.”

In May, Traber commented that there was no committed funding, although he was hopeful that Corvallis and Benton County would come to a financial agreement.

The good news is that since then, “The City of Corvallis has set aside some money in its 2017-‘18 budget that can be used for the homeless shelter once plans are finalized,” said Traber. “We also have some work going on to provide a way for the community to help contribute to supporting the shelter and that is continuing.”

Collins added that although the County currently has no shelter contingent included in its budget, “I have been told by County Commissioner Anne Schuster that we could reapply for shelter funding when we have a solid plan in place.”

In May, Traber also made the ominously foreshadowing statement: “If we get to June and don’t have anything public enough to speak about, at least some of the details, then we are starting to get into more of an area of serious concern.”

When asked if we are in an area of serious concern, Traber said, “I’m worried, worried that we won’t have a solution in time. I wish I had good news for you, I wish I had an announcement, but we don’t.”

“As I told City Council on June 5 at our meeting, we are getting close to a crisis situation,” he added.

When asked the same question, Collins responded, “Under best case circumstances we would have a location identified and a date we could take possession of it, some setup time to get ready for Nov. 1 and make sure all the volunteers are lined up.”

“I think it’s fair to say we have a problem,” he said. “I hesitate to call it a crisis because it’s not November yet, but we are awful close.”

By Anthony Vitale

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