The former Aloha Quality Inn was purchased by Washington County last winter, and by next year, the county plans to have renovated it to serve as apartment housing for people who are currently homeless.
Officials outlined their plans for the old hotel at a virtual community meeting Wednesday evening, June 23. Josh Crites, Washington County's assistant director of housing services, made a presentation and fielded questions from community members on the Zoom videoconference call.
Crites said he's worked on the issue of homelessness and homeless encampments in Washington County and elsewhere. In the Portland metropolitan area, including Washington, Clackamas and Multnomah counties, he said officials believe more than 5,000 people are "sleeping rough" on a regular basis.
"There is a solution to this problem, and a solution to homelessness, and it's places," Crites said.
In July, the northern wing of the old Aloha Inn will reopen as a shelter for people experiencing homelessness. Twenty-two rooms will be available.
The building will undergo renovations. Crites said that in early 2022, the southern wing of the building will reopen, having been converted by that time into "permanent supportive housing." The northern wing will reopen by that fall, also as permanent housing. In total, the building will offer 54 units of apartment housing intended for people who are currently living on the streets, in the woods or otherwise without a roof over their heads.
"Shelter is short-term … whereas permanent supportive housing, this is an apartment," Crites explained. "This is a place for folks to live."
The site will offer what is called "low-barrier" shelter, according to Crites. That means minimal screening of applicants based on their criminal record or other factors.
"I think our philosophy when we're (providing) shelters, we're providing affordable housing, it's grounded in that belief that no person is defined by the worst thing that they've ever done, and people deserve to have access to safe housing," Crites said.
Neighbors weighed in at the virtual meeting. Some were curious. Some were concerned.
One man, who did not provide his full name at the meeting, noted that nearby Reedville Elementary School is among the poorest in Hillsboro. He said he is concerned that ex-convicts may be among the guests at the shelter, including child molesters who may prey on local kids.
"It seems like you're dumping a big problem on a really poor neighborhood," he said.
Others asked what the Aloha Inn site will mean for the nearby homeless encampment along West Baseline Road.
"As we engage with folks, that will give us the opportunity to provide different types of housing options to them," Crites said. "Can I say that folks will immediately go from the Baseline camp into this site specifically? I can't say that. There's a process for engagement. But we do believe that we're going to have so much more in the way of opportunities to engage with communities, engage with our houseless population, and get them into permanent housing solutions."
Sally Reid, president of the Aloha Business Association, said she has a son who has dealt with addiction and homelessness. She strongly supports the plans to convert the Aloha Inn into permanent supportive housing.
"This housing is tremendously needed," Reid said, noting the importance of people having their own living space. "It can't be done fast enough."
Reid also addressed the concerns some other Aloha residents raised during the meeting about having currently or formerly homeless people in their neighborhoods.
"Don't assume that they're criminals," Reid told them. "They're more scared of you, especially if they have a mental issue, than you being afraid of them."
Responding to another community member with questions, Crites said, "There's a lot of homeless individuals in Aloha already. They're already there. They're in encampments, they're sleeping in cars, out in parking lots — they're sleeping in places that aren't meant for human habitation. And my answer to the question is always: 'Let's get them housed.'"
Along with putting a roof over people's heads, the Aloha Inn site will also connect people with what advocates call "supportive services," such as access to medical and dental care, job placement services, addiction treatment and more.
There will be around-the-clock on-site security and keycard access to the building, Crites said.
The Good Neighbor Center, a Tigard-based nonprofit that already operates a homeless shelter off Southwest Greenburg Road, will be the operator of the converted Aloha Inn, which will eventually receive a new name. Two other nonprofit groups, Hillsboro-based Bienestar and the Urban League of Portland, are also partnering with the county to provide "culturally specific" services, county officials say.
Washington County commissioners approved spending money from Metro's 2018 affordable housing bond to buy the Aloha Inn and convert it into apartment housing.
The total project cost is estimated at $9 million, with about $8.47 million coming from the bond.
Community members and other interested individuals will have another chance to share their thoughts and hear more about the project at the next meeting of Community Participation Organization (CPO) 6. Shannon Wilson and Andrew Crampton with the Washington County Housing Development Division will give a presentation at that meeting, which starts at 7 p.m. Thursday, July 1. It will be held virtually. A meeting agenda can be found online on the CPO 6 website.
By Mark Miller
Editor-in-Chief, Washington and Columbia counties
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