Newberg's transitional housing program receives $140,000 from ARPA funds
On the evening of March 30, pastor Leslie Hodgdon Murray of North Valley Friends Church couldn't sleep.
Just a few hours before, the city council had allotted $400,000 of its federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds toward building Peace Trail Village, the latest addition to the church and Providence Newberg Medical Center's joint transitional housing project.
The village will consist of nine, 300-square-foot cottages, three of which will be ADA accessible; a gazebo to be used as a community space; walking paths and a laundry mat.
While the funds do not cover all expenses, it will pay the salary of a caseworker for the village for two years ($150,000), a project manager ($100,000) and the cost of infrastructure ($150,000), such as engineering, excavation, sewer, water and electrical. The laundry mat will also be built with the funds.
"We can't even believe it," Murray said weeks later. "It just feels like an answer to a prayer, like a long shot … We had sensed that God had wanted us to do this, so it felt like getting the ARPA grant was getting the confirmation that that was the right path."
Murray said that according to statistics gathered in January, about 1,600 out of Newberg's roughly 25,000 residents are either couch surfing or houseless.
"In Newberg, it's (houselessness) more hidden, right?" Murray said. "It's not like folks are on the corner. It's individuals and families sleeping in their car, in an RV or jumping around from friends and family. And the problem's not getting better. As home prices and rental prices are skyrocketing, it's very difficult to even find available housing and then to afford it."
Recognizing it as a need in the community, Murray said that the church decided years ago to use some of its 120 acres to address local houselessness.
"We regularly have folks who come up here," Murray said. "Maybe they are in their RV or they have a tent or they want to sleep in our alcove. Issues of houselessness — we see it on a pretty regular basis."
The church, with help from former Newberg High School teacher Matt Miller's integrated design class and Habitat for Humanity volunteers, finished its first two transitional housing units in 2018 and 2021 in the form of tiny homes. Another tiny home was finished earlier this year but will house local resident Angela Wold permanently.
Like their tiny home neighbors, Peace Trail Village residents will have access to wrap-around-care, case management, referrals and help navigating benefits via PNMC's Better Outcomes Through Bridges (BOB).
"It's all individualized," Murray said. "What does this specific person want or need? And how can Providence assist and help?"
Once clients agree to the program's terms and set goals for themselves, they are encouraged to slow down and recoup.
"What we do first is honestly just let them rest and recover," Becky Wilkinson, PNMC's BOB program leader, said. "I mean, if they've just been living outside, or they've been living in their car for a long time, we already know that their nervous system is really heightened, you know, in fight or flight mode. So, it's going to take a while for somebody to even come down from that, to be able to start chipping away at their medical care, for example, and their basic needs."
After guests have settled, BOB program workers help them tackle those goals, whatever they may be.
"It's really led by them," Wilkinson said. "Even though they're signing a guest agreement, and are agreeing to work with us weekly, we don't have the agenda of telling them what they need to do. They are guiding that, always with the end goal of they're not going to live in the village forever."
As everyone's situation is different, the program has no time limit, but generally tiny house guests have moved out after about five months, Wilkinson said. Some now live with their children or friends, while others have moved into apartments or other independent housing.
Since the two tiny homes were built, the church and PNMC have helped more than a half-dozen people.
"They're so grateful," Murray said. "They're overwhelmed that people would help them, that we're letting them stay in such a beautiful home and beautiful place, and then everybody that they interact with around here is really loving and kind. I mean, folks that are houseless get a lot of judgement and a lot of added junk to the already hard part of being homeless."
"The scary thing is, all our clients could be us," Wilkinson said, describing the guests as regular people who have families and have lived full lives. "Maybe they lost their job, maybe they got in a car accident and maybe got addicted to medication and lost everything."
Many houseless individuals also have a history of trauma and low socioeconomic status.
"You know, a lot of folks are way under the federal poverty limit, and this has gone back generations and generations, and it is really hard to dig yourself out of that without good family support or friends," she said, adding that due to these circumstances, many lack good coping skills.
Wilkinson also highlighted as serious factors the state's lack of access to quality mental health and substance abuse treatment and the fact that Social Security disability income has not kept up with surging rent prices.
Even though the village will be small, society has to start somewhere, Wilkinson said, adding that there is nothing else like it in Yamhill County.
"It's important to remember when we look at houselessness and we look at interventions that can help folks get out of that cycle, we can't just have one door," Wilkinson said. "It can't just be permanent supported housing, or it can't just be car camping. It has to be multiple different avenues because there's not just one solution."
To fund the construction of the rest of the cottages, which could require several more hundreds of thousands of dollars, the church is applying for other grants and will eventually seek donations of labor and materials. In addition to ARPA funds, they have received $10,000 from the Austin Foundation and $10,000 from Northside Community Church and might be collaborating with a local homeowners association.
While a timeline for finishing the village has not been established, it will certainly take several years, Murray said. As of now, the project manager is working with architects to choose floorplans for the village.
"I'm grateful to the city of Newberg to open up those ARPA funds, because some cities just kept it, used it internally," Murray said. "I think it just helps me feel like as a community maybe we can help this situation together. Even though I know it's going to be, like, hard. We're going to learn things."
This realization hit Murray the night Peace Trail Village received the ARPA funds.
"I kept being, like, 'I can't believe this, I can't believe this,'" Murray said. "And then all of a sudden it felt like, oh my gosh, we have so much work to do."
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