Initiative to convert hotels and motels into shelters for homeless moves forward locally

by Kevin McNamara | KTVL News

FULL ARTICLE & VIDEO

Jackson County, OR (KTVL) — The Oregon Joint Legislative Emergency Board has approved a total of $65 million dollars in CARES Act funding over the past couple of months for use in purchasing hotels and motels to convert into transitional and permanent housing in what is being titled ‘Project Turnkey’. Oregon State Representative Pam Marsh had been pushing for the funding since the project started to come together earlier this year.

“We’ve been talking about this since July. As the pandemic progressed, I think it just became very clear to many of us how thin the safety net is, and that if we really were going to pull away the supports that we put into place for COVID (stay on evictions), we needed to be able to tell people what other services might be available to them,” Marsh said.

The grant program will allow local non-profits or public partners to apply for money to purchase hotels and motels for traditional sheltering of homeless individuals, for sheltering COVID-related individuals and for victims of the 2020 wildfires. The emergency board had previously approved $30 million for use in wildfire affected-areas before allocating an additional $35 million this past week. 

Marsh met with the Jackson County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday to update the county on the program’s status. Some counties in the state are expected to apply for funding directly, although Rep. Marsh does not expect that to be true everywhere. ADVERTISING

“In Jackson County, I don’t think that will be the case,” Marsh said. “Most likely the applicants will be nonprofits who are already doing this work. They will go through a rigorous application process that will require them to identify a facility that is for sale and that would be appropriate for this purpose.”

While the program is state-funded, the intention is for local communities to put together initiatives that make sense for them on the ground rather than dictated from the top down. Hotel and motel properties were chosen as targets partly because they already are configured for individual residency, slowing the spread of COVID-19.

“We looked at our shelter system and realized that the traditional congregate shelter, where if you’re lucky you throw a mat on the floor of a church, is not a system. Number one, it’s not a best practice. It’s not a way to really help people get out of homelessness. It’s just a way to keep them alive. And number two, it wasn’t going to work in time of COVID,” Marsh said.

The application process is live now and non-profits and housing authorities are encouraged to submit a request to the Oregon Community Foundation, which is also administering the program. The hope is to have some facilities on the ground running as soon as this winter. The plan is based on a similar California initiative known as Project Homekey, which has received $600 million in funding.

“If it turns out to be a great model, then I think it will become a core of the state’s response to homelessness,” said Rep. Marsh. “What we are seeing is the state turning a corner, and recognizing that we really have to help local communities deal with people who are on the street because the problem is just getting worse.”