One of the biggest projects Hermiston has currently “in the works” is a potential new homeless shelter.

I’ve reported on the project, known as Stepping Stones, in the past, but some of that reporting took place before the Hermiston Herald greatly expanded our readership, so I thought I would recap some of the basics for our new readers.

The city of Hermiston’s planning commission meets Wednesday, July 8, at 7 p.m. at the Hermiston Community Center, 415 South Highway 395, to discuss new zoning rules that would be specifically designed to govern Stepping Stones or any other similar projects proposed in the future. The hearing will be one of many opportunities people will have to give feedback, including future city council meetings on the issue.

Stepping Stones, as proposed, would be located on a little under an acre of property behind the Agape House, just north of Theater Sports Park. The newly formed Stepping Stones nonprofit’s board, led by Cathy Lloyd, is proposing a fenced-in encampment of 25 Conestoga huts and a community building.

The small huts would be available for an individual, couple, or single parent with a child. They do not have running water or electricity, but people living in them could access electricity to charge their phones or for other uses in the community building, and could access the Agape House’s showers during the day (organizers hope sometime in the future to build a shower and restroom facility).

People sleeping in the temporary shelter would be asked to clean out their hut completely each morning at 7 a.m. and leave for the day, and would only be able to return after 7 p.m. after checking in with volunteers. They would have access to a locked bin outside their hut to store belongings during the day.

Lloyd testified during the April 28 city council meeting where this project was first proposed that after the shelter got up and running, guests would be required to earn credits to continue to hold a spot there. Those credits could be earned through opportunities designed to help them escape homelessness, such as a job or studying for their GED or other education.

The zoning amendments that will be discussed at this week’s planning commission would create rules for temporary emergency shelters, such as a homeless shelter or a shelter set up after a natural disaster. According to the agenda packet for the meeting, the ordinance’s provisions include:

  • The shelter must be sited with an “existing permitted industrial use” instead of taking up a vacant property.
  • It must be between one-half acre and 1.5 acres and be behind a sight-obscuring fence at least 6 feet tall.
  • The density must not be more than one shelter unit per 1,400 square feet of space.
  • Shelters must meet safety standards, such as a smoke detector in each unit
  • Showers, restrooms and a pet area must be provided
  • It must be at least 1,000 feet from a school or other shelter

The agenda packet notes that the city has received complaints from residents who believe such shelters should also be required to be at least 1,000 feet away from city parks, but that is not currently written into the proposed ordinance.

The full agenda packet for the meeting can be found online at hermiston.or.us/meetings. If you attend a planning commission or city council meeting about the topic, be aware that in keeping with Oregon’s current mask mandate, everyone present at city meetings must now wear a mask, and chairs will be spaced at least 6 feet apart.

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