The new shelter site on the west end of town will house 30 Conestoga-style huts.

COURTESY PHOTO - These Conestoga-style huts are becoming a popular option for communities looking to provide temporary shelter for the homeless. Washington County is in the process of building these so they can be moved to a new shelter site in West Hillsboro.

A temporary shelter pod, consisting of dozens of Conestoga-style huts, is being finalized at the western edge of Hillsboro and should begin providing shelter and services by the end of the month.

Officials say this temporary shelter will operate through the cold months of the year, on the same site where a permanent shelter will later be constructed.

"This is definitely a city and county partnership here underway," said Jes Larson, Washington County's supportive housing services program manager. "We're super-grateful to the city of Hillsboro to help make this shelter site available, both as temporary shelter and in the work toward long-term shelter."

The shelter is located on city-owned property near the corner of Southwest 17th Avenue and Tualatin Valley Highway, across the street from the Hillsboro Pioneer Cemetery and near the site of the now-closed Aaroma's Mexican Restaurant and former Agave Azul Nightclub.

Hillsboro purchased the property in December 2021 for $3.17 million and has so far spent another $47,000 in American Rescue Plan Act funds on site preparation work to make way for the shelter pods.

The county has the bulk of the shelter project costs, at roughly $630,000. About $200,000 of that went toward construction of the huts themselves. Washington County's share of the proceeds from Metro's 2020 supportive housing services bond measure has paid for all of it.

The site looks empty now, but there are rectangular patches of gravel where the pop-up structures will go.

The site allows for 30 huts in all, though some might house couples for a total capacity of around 40 people. PMG PHOTO: TROY SHINN - The site near the corner of Southwest 17th Avenue and TV Highway looks bare, but these gravel patches will be where Conestoga-style huts are laid out on the new temporary shelter site, which should be operational by the end of the month.

Crews have recently been working to get running water and electricity out at the site. All that's left to do is construct the actual cabins and move them to the shelter location, which will happen by the end of September, officials say.

Conestoga huts are small, round-topped cabins that rest atop simple wooden foundations. They've provided a popular and growing model for providing homeless shelter pods.

Hillsboro is just the second community in the Portland metro area to utilize the pod model, after Portland.

The 17th Avenue site will have a shower truck, a staff building and a community tent — all the facilities needed to offer adequate sanitation and staff for around-the-clock services, officials say.

Just like all of the local shelters, staff will offer so-called wraparound services to help people get financially stable enough to secure permanent housing.

Like other shelters in Hillsboro, this one will be staffed by the nonprofit Open Door HousingWorks, which also operates the Cloverleaf seasonal shelter site at the county fairgrounds.

While it should provide shelter and sanitation for a few dozen people, the pod isn't envisioned as a permanent solution to homelessness — nor as a permanent fixture at 17th Avenue and Tualatin Valley Highway.

Construction will start sometime in 2023 on a permanent shelter structure at the site. That means that the huts will have to be moved elsewhere to make room. Just where they will be relocated remains to be seen.

"The pods that we will be supplying at this site are moveable, and that was an intentional investment," Larson said. "We will be working to identify the next site so we can keep that capacity and shelter program operating, even when it has to relocate from the current shelter site we're moving into first."

The new shelter will help satisfy Washington County's need for not just more shelter beds, but various kinds of shelters.

"It's clear that the traditional model doesn't reach everyone," Larson said. "We in Washington County just really need shelter capacity of all types. Lately, we've been really focused and reliant on temporary shelters every winter, but that sort of comes and goes."

Washington County has a goal of providing 250 year-round shelter beds. While it is still working to expand seasonal options like the Cloverleaf site, the problem ultimately demands more permanent shelters and various types of locations, Larson said.

The county also offers "bridge shelters," which repurpose former hotels and motels to provide longer-term options, particularly for families.

The siting of the shelters has come following a public engagement process, which showed that Hillsboroans want shelters near transportation lines and in close proximity to other needed services.

Also, it's important to meet the homeless where they already are, which is why the 17th Avenue shelter pod is located in an area popular with homeless campers in recent years.

Hillsboro officials say priority for placement in the pod will be given to people already living in nearby campsites.

To learn more, visit Hillsboro's homeless initiatives website.

Residents who want to stay updated on shelter sites in Hillsboro and elsewhere in the county can sign up for an email newsletter at the city's shelters website.

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