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Cole Merkel and Anna Hoesly: Commissioners need to approve purchase to benefit community

Every resident in Clackamas County needs a safe and secure place to call home. For too long, we have had too few options for vulnerable neighbors who are experiencing homelessness or housing insecurity. Fortunately, the Board of County Commissioners has a unique opportunity to buy a hotel in unincorporated Clackamas County to create immediate housing options. The best part: thanks to a Project Turnkey grant from the state of Oregon, the purchase won't cost Clackamas County taxpayers a dime.Anna Hoesly

As leaders in coalitions that advocate for safe, stable housing in Clackamas County and across the Portland Metro region, and as residents who call unincorporated Clackamas County our home, we urge the Board of County Commissioners to vote yes on this opportunity to purchase a hotel for transitional housing. Cole Merkel

Project Turnkey is funded by the state legislature to help communities more nimbly respond to homelessness by purchasing hotels and motels and immediately converting them into shelter. In 2020, this innovative program created 19 new shelters in 13 counties across Oregon, increasing the state's shelter-bed inventory by 20% in just seven months. This year, the legislature approved an additional $50 million for Project Turnkey hotel acquisitions and Clackamas County was one of just a handful of projects selected for funding out of more than 40 applicants.

This will be a huge asset for our community and a fiscal no-brainer. Clackamas County is already operating hotel shelters and renting rooms at a nightly market rate. Purchasing a hotel would mean the county could save money they're already spending on rooms for those transitioning out of homelessness, while providing services like case management, mental health treatment and addiction recovery on-site with qualified providers.

With the building purchased outright, Clackamas County will have ample resources to operate the hotel shelter through the Supportive Housing Services measure, which generated $44.6 million in the last fiscal year and is projected to annually generate upwards of $40 million, earmarked specifically to tackle homelessness, for the next decade.

Not only does the program make smart financial sense, but there is a critical deficit of housing supply in our communities. According to the Oregon Housing Alliance, for every 100 families with very low incomes in Clackamas County, there are only 22 affordable units available, and many are struggling with rising housing costs. A medical emergency, loss of income or a family emergency could all too easily push someone over the edge.

The truth about community is that we rise and fall together. This is not just a nice turn of phrase, it is an accurate reflection of how our system operates. When we invest in infrastructure, our community stabilizes. A safe place to call home is a basic necessity for a healthy and flourishing community. Story after story from our service provider partners reflect this reality — such as the family who was able to enroll their 5-year-old in school for the first time this year, or a neighbor who is now able to care for their elderly parent because they have stable housing.

Clackamas County is our home, and when we take care of our home, we rise together. We urge the Clackamas County commissioners to vote yes on the Project Turnkey hotel purchase to provide more safe options for vulnerable community members.

Both authors are residents of unincorporated Clackamas County. Cole Merkel is co-director of HereTogether, the 250-member regionwide coalition of homeless service providers, business owners, faith leaders and more, which are advancing solutions to homelessness and developed and passed Metro's Supportive Housing Services measure. Anna Hoesly is the pastor and lead organizer of Storyline Community, which operates the Clackamas Land and Housing Cohort in partnership with the Leaven Land and Housing Coalition, a coalition of over 50 communities of faith and neighborhood supporters.


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