SALEM, Ore. (KOIN) — A Salem-area nonprofit is on its way to purchasing a local motel and plans to use the 80 available rooms to house wildfire survivors and people experiencing homelessness starting in August. 

Jimmy Jones, executive director of the Mid-Willamette Valley Community Action Agency, said the non-profit has already entered a purchase and sale agreement for the property at 1288 Hawthorne Ave. Northeast, where a Super 8 motel is currently located. Now, he’s hoping the Oregon Community Foundation’s Project Turnkey will approve funding for the endeavor. 

“We’ve still got a few more pieces to get there, but we’re getting pretty close and I’m hoping that we’ll be able to close this out fairly shortly,” Jones said. 

If the Project Turnkey advisory committee approves funding the motel purchase, they’ll provide MWVCAA with a $4.2 million donation. Jones said the nonprofit also received a federal grant worth about $1.25 million. They’re also receiving about $2.5 million in reimbursements from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for providing motel housing for homeless individuals during the pandemic. 

Combined, Jones said these funds should cover the cost of operating the motel as a shelter for wildfire survivors and people experiencing homelessness for the next three years.  

“If you were to ask me what I thought of our chances of being able to pull this off in early April, I would have been skeptical,” Jones said. “But it just sort of, the stars aligned perfectly there at the last moment and we were able to get an offer and that was accepted.”

If Project Turnkey’s advisory board does agree to provide funding for the project, the Oregon Community Foundation said this will be the last of the funds allocated to support victims of the 2020 wildfire season. 

In November 2020, the Oregon State Legislature’s Emergency Board allocated $65 million in state funding to be used to purchase motels across the state to provide shelter for people experiencing homelessness during the COVID-19 pandemic and to those in need of shelter after the wildfires. The funding effort was called Project Turnkey and the Oregon Community Foundation oversees administering the funds. 

Of the $65 million, two separate funds were created. One fund totalling $30 million was intended to assist counties and tribal communities impacted by the 2020 wildfires. The remaining $35 million was meant to assist the other 28 counties throughout the state that were not greatly impacted by wildfires. 

Megan Loeb, program officer with the Oregon Community Foundation, said she feels the purchase of the Salem motel is an exciting opportunity for the community. 

“I hope that our advisory committee will continue to advocate for a successful application result for them,” she said. “I think Mid-Willamette Valley [Community Action Agency] is a really strong community partner. The need is high, and we are certainly hopeful for a successful outcome.” 

Project Turnkey has also funded similar motel purchases in Klamath, Jackson, Lane, Lincoln, and Douglas counties to support wildfire victims. Loeb said many of these hotels and motels have been open for months now and they’ve seen huge success in providing temporary housing for people. 

If the Super 8 motel project is approved, it would be the second Project Turnkey-funded property in Marion County for people experiencing housing insecurity or homelessness  

If purchased, the 80-room motel will be the MWVCAA’s largest shelter, but operating a facility like this is nothing new for the non-profit. During the pandemic, MWVCAA’s ARCHES Project, which oversees housing and street outreach, has been operating 140 rooms at motels and hotels across the city to help shelter people. 

The Mid-Willamette Valley Community Action Agency says already entered a purchase and sale agreement for the property at 1288 Hawthorne Avenue Northeast in Salem, the current site of a Super 8 motel. The non-profit is just waiting for funding to be approved. (KOIN)

Jones said the motel-shelter system has been working well for them and it’s proven what a difference stability makes in improving people’s lives. 

“It’s difficult to get a job if you don’t have an internet connection, so you can fill out an application. It’s difficult to get a job if you don’t have a phone number, so that somebody can call you for an interview. It’s difficult to get a job if you can’t get up in the morning and take a shower,” Jones said. He said staying in a motel allows people access to all these things. 

Jones said he thinks people underestimate the number of wildfire victims who were homeless prior to the fires or who became homeless as a result of the fires. He said for them, the process of rebuilding their lives and finding stability could take two to three years. That’s why he’s hopeful the motel project will remain open for at least five years, to provide people with ongoing support. 

Project Turnkey is concerned about over building shelter infrastructure in the state. However, Loeb said the unique approach this shelter will provide, of not only serving wildfire survivors but homeless individuals as well, will likely be key to its success. 

Jones thinks the homeless crisis in Salem will only worsen in years to come and believes the need for this shelter will be there and that this motel will make a difference. 

“I hope that when we look back on it five years from now, we’ll be able to say we provided, you know, maybe a half million bed nights, over the course of those five years,” Jones said, “Maybe we kept quite a few people from passing away outside needlessly from physical health conditions that are entirely treatable, if they have access to services.”