Hillsboro officials plan year-round shelter
Hillsboro officials plan to create a new year-round homeless shelter on a property recently purchased by the city government.
Hillsboro has created temporary, seasonal shelters in the past, but this is the first time the city government has committed to opening a year-round option for hundreds of unsheltered people in the area.
The property, located in the 300 block of Southwest 17th Avenue, is on the western edge of the city, north of Dairy Creek Park.
The area has seen a high prevalence of camping by unsheltered people for years. During the pandemic, the number of people camping near Dairy Creek spiked.
During a Jan. 4 presentation to the Hillsboro City Council, Mandy Gawf, community services coordinator for Hillsboro, said officials will seek to fill a gap in the sheltering options available in Washington County with the new shelter.
"Locally, we have a gap in sheltering across the spectrum for all populations, but, in particular, for single adults, including couples," Gawf said. "Currently, we offer winter-only shelter and inclement (weather) pop-up shelters, so there is a gap in year-round sheltering."
Washington County's seasonal winter shelter program this year includes 187 beds at five sites across the county that use the congregate sheltering model, in which guests do not have private rooms.
Year-round sheltering currently consists of the county's Bridge Shelter program, which offers 101 beds at three sites in Hillsboro, Aloha and Forest Grove focused on assisting people who are actively pursuing permanent housing. Using former hotel rooms, the program offers a non-congregate sheltering model, giving individuals and families more privacy.
Hillsboro's year-round shelter at 17th Avenue would occupy a role different than the winter shelter and Bridge Shelter programs, in that it would offer a year-round shelter using the congregate sheltering model.
Gawf said the site is strategically located on a TriMet bus line near other resources, including Open Door HousingWorks' day center, the nonprofit Community Action, and OHSU's Hillsboro Medical Center.
Hillsboro acquired the nearly 7-acre future shelter site in mid-December. It includes two single-story buildings that are former restaurants.
The city government paid $3 million for the property. It was appraised at $2.02 million to $3.18 million, said Patrick Preston, spokesperson for the city, in an email, adding the range was provided based on the scale of the developability of the property.
The city is currently working with an estimator to determine the scope and cost of work that would need to be done to make the site functional, Gawf said, noting that one building is in better condition than the other.
Officials are in the early planning stages for the shelter, Gawf said, adding that details about the services that would be available at the shelter, such as how many beds will be available, are not yet known.
Work with the estimator and future work with an architect will give Hillsboro officials a better sense of what services could be offered at the shelter, Gawf said.
Officials know some details, including that Hillsboro plans to contract with a local service provider to operate the shelter 24/7, Gawf said. The operator will be selected from a pre-qualified list of service providers identified through Washington County's supportive housing services bond process, she said.
The shelter will be "outcome-driven," Gawf said.
"One of the benefits of moving to year-round, consistent sheltering is that you can move beyond just life-saving shelter to a shelter that's more tied to performance metrics, such as exits to more permanent housing," Gawf explained.
Officials plan to engage with the community — in terms of notifying nearby residents, businesses and other stakeholders about the shelter's presence and discussing with them what it will offer — based on feedback from a recent community survey conducted about homelessness, Gawf said.
The city government is currently conducting a stakeholder analysis, Gawf said, noting key partners as surrounding businesses, nearby residents, public safety agencies, nonprofits and others.
Officials expect to finalize an engagement plan in February, before sending out informational mailers about the shelter and providing onsite and virtual meetings with stakeholders in the spring.
Hillsboro officials plan to begin renovations to the site in fall 2022, Gawf said.
During a Q&A period, City Councilor Olivia Alcaire emphasized the need to engage frequently with a diverse range of community members and stakeholders about the project.
She recommended that officials expand the 1-mile radius from the shelter site that respondents to Hillsboro's homelessness survey said was the ideal distance to send out communications about the shelter to residents and other entities.
City Councilor Anthony Martin asked what officials plan to do to ensure the area around the shelter is welcoming to the entire community.
Gawf said having a 24/7 management presence at the site will help limit concerns about litter and other negative impacts on the surrounding area.
City Manager Robby Hammond acknowledged that the shelter site is an important location at the western entrance to Hillsboro. He said officials could consider beautification measures, such as public art, to help keep the area welcoming.
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