The Umatilla County Board of Commissioners on Sept. 8 agreed to allow a warming station and temporary living huts to go on 10 acres the county owns.
The site is at the intersection of Lind and Bensel roads, Hermiston. Umatilla County acquired the land in 1935, and the county Public Works Department has used the site to store aggregate storage, and Granite Construction leases part of the site for equipment, rock and gravel storage.
Commissioner George Murdock said the county has been working with Umatilla, Hermiston, Echo and Stanfield on a site for temporary shelters to help take on homelessness. Commissioner Dan Dorran at the meeting said the land is flat and usable and near Highway 395, which makes it good for transportation to towns as far away as Milton-Freewater.
Umatilla County would own the shelter and continue to own the land.
Hermiston City Manager Byron Smith said the project is largely a response to a new law the Oregon Legislature passed in June that mandates cities codify ordinances that would protect people from fines and fees for sleeping on public lands if a local government fails to provide other viable alternatives. Cities have two years to comply with the law.
The local plan at this stage calls for a modular building to act as a warming station that also would provide showers, restrooms and meeting areas. The site would need to connect to infrastructure for water and power, and and pumping truck would provide sewage services.
Funding for the project could come from grants but also local cities.
Rather than each of the four cities creating its own solution for the new mandates, Smith said the shelter is an effort by the cities to find a comprehensive solution to assist those experiencing homelessness.
The project still is in its early stages, Smith said, and officials have yet to determine what kind of services would be provided. He added city or county employees are not likely to staff the shelter but perhaps a local nonprofit would take on the task. Organizations, such as Stepping Stones, which has taken the area’s homelessness problem, will continue to be welcomed for input.
Smith said officials are also in the process of exploring funding for the shelter’s operations. However, he said the county and the four cities would each have a financial stake in the project.
Echo City Administrator David Slaght said he is enthused about a plan between larger partners, as Echo has difficulties with homelessness but cannot fund a solution on its own.
“I totally, 100% believe we need to do this,” Slaght said.
He said he will bring the plan to the Echo City Council for further discussion. The council then will determine the role Echo will have in enacting the plan. This will take time, and though Slaght would like to see a shelter created before winter, he does not know when it will be built and open for use.
Stanfield City Manager Ben Burgener said Stanfield stands with other Umatilla County cities in trying to help homeless people, and he is hopeful.
“We’re looking forward to continue working with the county and the cities over here to find a solution to best help,” he said.
This shelter plan works toward the aim of helping, though more discussion is needed regarding transportation and resources, he added.