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PORTLAND, Ore. (Portland Tribune) — Washington County plans to turn a motel in Hillsboro into the county’s first year-round shelter for homeless and other at-risk groups after receiving grant funding for the project.
The county received $6.2 million from Project Turnkey to purchase the 60-room Econo Lodge Inn & Suites at 622 S.E. 10th Ave., according to a Thursday, April 22, announcement from the nonprofit Oregon Community Foundation.
The foundation is administering Project Turnkey, which was created by the Oregon State Legislature last fall using $65 million.
The project seeks to turn hotels across the state into non-congregate shelters for single adults experiencing homelessness and people impacted by the 2020 wildfires during the pandemic.
Camping on public and private property in Washington County has dramatically increased during the pandemic, county officials say.
The county and city governments have used emergency federal funding to create new programs designed to decrease the risk of COVID-19 outbreaks among homeless people, who are considered at high risk for the virus by often living in congregate settings and lacking access to sanitary resources.
Washington County’s programs have included offering hotel vouchers to at-risk people with medical conditions, contracting with another Hillsboro hotel to create a respite shelter for vulnerable people who test positive for COVID-19 and extending its winter shelter network later than previous years through June.
Even with expanded winter shelter bed capacity this year, a registration system created to manage shelter beds had a waitlist of more than 70 people at times.
The county estimates there are about 1,000 homeless people living in Washington County — many of whom are not able to access existing sheltering services because they have pets or aren’t able to bring their belongings into shelters.
Service animals will be allowed at the county’s new shelter, officials said.
Only 16 people who have tested positive for COVID-19 in Washington County reported they were homeless within the last year, according county officials.
“Washington County is facing an unprecedented homelessness crisis which has become even more severe as a result of COVID-19,” said Josh Crites, assistant director of Washington County’s department of housing services, in an email.
Crites added that the purchase of the motel will bring “a swift solution for the most pressing issues our communities are facing today.”
Last last year, the county identified multiple potential facilities that could be used as a year-round shelter, Crites said, adding the Econo Lodge met all of the suitability criteria and was within the price range that Project Turnkey would consider funding.
He said officials expect the shelter to be operational by July, following renovations.
In May, the county plans to seek feedback about the shelter from nearby residents, area businesses and other stakeholders, Crites said.
That outreach would include a virtual community meeting to learn about the project and express concerns and make suggestions, he said.
“We also understand that communities of color have been historically overrepresented in our homeless population and disproportionally affected during the pandemic,” Crites said.
Washington County has partnered with Bienestar and the Urban League of Portland to make the shelter’s programs, services and referrals meet the specific needs of underserved populations, Oregon Community Foundation officials said.
Bienestar is a Washington County-based housing nonprofit primarily serving Latinos and immigrants. The Urban League of Portland is the local chapter of a national civil rights organiztion.
“This collaborative effort will enable some of the most vulnerable members of our community to safely move forward on their path toward one day having permanent housing,” said Kathryn Harrington, chair of the Washington County Board of Commissioners, in a statement thanking the organizations involved, including Hillsboro.
Editor’s note: This story previously incorrectly stated the number of homeless Washington County residents who tested positive for COVID-19.