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Centro Cultural de Washington County received a $2.2 million grant to turn the Forest Grove Inn into a shelter.

COURTESY PHOTO: OREGON COMMUNITY FOUNDATION - The Forest Grove Inn at 4433 Pacific Ave. will become a culturally specific shelter operated by Centro Cultural de Washington County.Editor's note: This story has been updated to clarify how programs at the shelter will be "culturally specific."

Centro Cultural de Washington County plans to turn a motel in Forest Grove into a respite shelter for people impacted by COVID-19 and other at-risk groups after receiving grant funding for the project.

The Cornelius-based nonprofit, which assists low-income Latino families, received a $2.2 million grant from Project Turnkey to purchase the 20-room Forest Grove Inn at 4433 Pacific Ave., according to a Tuesday, May 4, announcement from the Oregon Community Foundation.

The foundation is administering Project Turnkey, which was created by the Oregon State Legislature last fall using $65 million.

The project seeks to turn hotels across the state into non-congregate shelters for single adults experiencing homelessness and people impacted by the 2020 wildfires and the pandemic.

The grant is the second provided by Project Turnkey in Washington County. In April, the program awarded a grant to Washington Count to operate a year-round shelter in Hillsboro.

In addition to being a COVID-19 respite shelter for displaced, low-income Latino families, the Forest Grove property will also serve seasonal and migrant farmworkers and others needing shelter, OCF officials said.

People at the shelter will have access to meals, clothing, and essentials such as showers, laundry and hygiene items.

Centro plans to offer shelter residents trauma-informed and "culturally specific" programs, meaning assistance programs will be tailored to the backgrounds of underserved groups served at the shelter.

Maria Caballero Rubio, director of Centro, said in a statement the pandemic and its disproportionate impact on Latinos have "challenged Centro like no other time in our organization's history."

Since the beginning of the pandemic, Latinos in Washington County and across the state have contracted COVID-19 at a higher rate than other groups. Nearly 40% of positive cases in Washington County are among people who identify as Hispanic while the group accounts for 15% of the population, according to county data.

Research suggests disparities in housing, transportation and employment in jobs such as agriculture and food processing put Latinos at a higher risk of exposure to COVID-19, according to a review led by OHSU and the VA Portland Health Care System published last December.

Caballero Rubio said the pandemic pushed many working people assisted by Centro into homelessness.

"Before the pandemic, many people were renting a garage, basement, or attic and sometimes an extra bedroom for an entire family in a relative's home," she said. "These are who are referred to as 'the working poor' who often work (two) jobs to make ends meet and some may not have work status so if they don't show up for work, they are replaced the same day. They have been on the verge of homelessness for a while."

Caballero Rubio said the grant helps Centro fulfill its mission to assist those working people.

During the pandemic, homeless people have been using the Forest Grove Inn for shelter through a room voucher program by Washington County.

Caballero Rubio said there are 18 people already using the motel as a shelter through the county's program.

People currently using the motel as a shelter will be able to continue through June, Caballero Rubio said, adding that Centro will take ownership of the motel on May 21.

Some people wishing to access Centro's culturally specific programs will continue to stay there between July and September, while others won't, Caballero Rubio said.

"Our goal is to secure funding through September to provide transitional services for them like connecting them with services, getting into treatment if necessary, finding permanent housing so they don't have to go back to the street," she said. "We will help those who want to prepare for a job through our workforce training center."

In September, Centro plans to renovate the motel, adding kitchenettes to the rooms, to operate the nonprofit's culturally specific programs long-term, she said.


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