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Hours of testimony are given supporting and opposing the proposed facility on Madras Highway

BILL MINTIENS - Prineville Senior Planner Josh Smith explains the land use application Tuesday evening.

Last Tuesday evening, the City of Prineville Planning Commission reviewed an application for a new men's shelter to be located at 970 and 980 NW Madras Highway.

The application still awaits approval after considerable testimony both for and against the shelter, and a second discussion is scheduled for early next month.

In front of audience of about 30 people the Commissioners heard plans for a 16-bed men's shelter that would be operated by Redemption House Ministries and would initially be open as a men's "emergency" shelter. Men would arrive at 5 p.m. and depart the next morning at 6 a.m.

Both proponents and opponents of the proposed land use were in attendance. The primary petitioners, former Crook County Commissioner Ken Fahlgren and St. Vincent de Paul Prineville, provided a brief history about the primary funder for this project - former Prineville resident Teresa Iskra.

Iskra took pride in designing, painting, and landscaping her dream home in Juniper Canyon which she enjoyed for seven years.

"She loved her animals, loved the outdoors and square dancing, and she loved volunteering at St. Vincent de Paul in Prineville. She just had a very sweet nature and warm heart," said her long-time friend Pam Bodie.

Iskra left this world in 2014 at age 63, but not before ensuring that one of the two causes she cared deeply about was factored into her will. While volunteering at St. Vincent's she saw the need for a homeless shelter in Prineville.

The need has only increased in recent years. The Homeless Leadership Coalition's 2017 Point in Time Count revealed an increase in homelessness of 31 percent in Central Oregon during the past two years.

Bodie is also the executor of Iskra's estate and explained that her wish was very explicit. Her estate would be split 50/50 between a future homeless shelter and the American Cancer Society.

Reading from Teresa's will, Bodie said "The other shares shall be to build, operate, and purchase land and/or a building for a homeless shelter in Prineville Oregon."

St. Vincent de Paul in Prineville was designated as the beneficiary of the substantial donation and had a clear mission regarding what to do with the money.

Although the donation has been available for several years, solid options for a new homeless shelter in Prineville didn't occur until this spring.

"Frankly, operating a homeless shelter is not our mission so we needed to partner with other organizations, specifically Redemption House Ministries, to accomplish this goal," said Jim Rodosevich, President of St. Vincent's Prineville.

Redemption House Ministries has been operating homeless shelters in Prineville for several years. The woman's/children shelter is located on East First Street and, until Jan. 31, the men's shelter was located on Second Street next to the Crook County Sheriff's Office. The men's shelter was closed to make room for the new Crook County Jail.

Through April 2017, St. Andrew's Episcopal Church on East First Street allowed the men's shelter to operate.

"This winter was particularly hard on our homeless population. We were able to accommodate about 12-14 men each night during this period so we are truly thankful for the grace we were given by the Episcopal Church," said Greg Sanders, Executive Director, Redemption House Ministries.

As of May 2017 no men's shelter has been operating in Prineville.

So this spring Rodosevich partnered with Sanders and the Board of Redemption House Ministries, and Ken Fahlgren, former Crook County Commissioner, now Coordinator of the Local Public Safety Coordinating Council (LPSCC) for Crook and Jefferson counties.

They had the funds and they went to work on finding either an existing building or a suitable piece of property on which to locate a men's shelter. Their initial plan was to purchase a portion of the former Les Schwab headquarters property on the Madras Highway.

This plan faltered when, after making a presentation, Schwab executives in Bend decided they didn't want to sell a portion of the long-vacated property.

This is when Fahlgren found two vacant commercial lots on the Northwest Madras Highway close to town, located a 24 x 60 foot refurbished manufactured module in the Willamette Valley that will sleep 16 men, and created a construction/operating plan for the proposed facility.

Requiring City Planning Commission land use approval, Fahlgren also became the primary petitioner regarding the proposed land use, building plans, and community safety plans.

The commissioners reviewed the application and plans at their regular meeting last Tuesday evening.

For several hours, the commissioners listened to both pro and con testimony about the proposed men's shelter. Pro testimony centered around the growing homeless population, success and safety record of Redemption House Ministries' shelters, the fact that funding was secured, and the need to help those in need with a hand up.

Nearby resident concerns were summarized by Mike Wilson, Board President of Redemption House Ministries and Pastor at Prineville Presbyterian Church.

"The concerns revolved around trespassing, loitering, problems with rabble-rousers at a nearby park (Gary Ward Park), and safety - primarily in relation to housing men recently released from jail."

In summarizing the entire session, Planning Director Phil Stenbeck said, "The Planning Commission heard the staff report, listened to testimony from the applicants, eight neighbors who opposed and shared their concerns, and reviewed an e-mail that was sent to the City Council." 

The Planning Commission did not vote on the application during the meeting Tuesday evening, preferring to give city staff time to draft residents' and commissioners' concerns into the "conditions for approval."

"Because the decision is very complicated, the Planning Commission continued the hearing to Aug. 1, and asked staff to draft the final conditions of approval for review prior to making a motion at the next meeting," said Stenbeck.

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