Washington County has increased capacity across its network of homeless shelters ahead of the winter cold.
Service network administrator Alex Devin said the county has 187 units this winter at both large congregate settings and motels. The county had been aiming to offer 150 before an extension of federal funding for motel vouchers added capacity.
Access to those units starts Nov. 10.
"Last year was the first year they actually started expanding winter shelters beyond churches multiple nights a week. There wasn't really funding for winter shelters last year," Devin said. "Our objective is to pair households to all those beds and have everybody moved in the next two weeks, and then fill our waitlist."
In addition to large emergency shelters in Beaverton and Hillsboro, Devin said the county's Project Homeless Connect has funding for 38 motel rooms prioritized for medically fragile adults, while Family Promise chapters for the Tualatin Valley and greater Washington County each have 22 larger motel rooms.
Beyond those emergency units, Devin said the county has added shelter stock over the last year between the Aloha, Forest Grove and Hillsboro inns, former motels converted into shelters by the county and nonprofit partners, with a combined 102 units designed for 120-day stays on the way to permanent housing.
Without funding for capital projects to construct new facilities, Brian Schimmel, who manages a Western Washington County Emergency Task Force dedicated to community-based responses to poverty, said continuing to convert motels is the county's likeliest strategy to continue to add capacity.
Schimmel, who also works as housing development director at Cornelius-based nonprofit Centro Cultural — which manages the Forest Grove Inn location — said the pandemic shifted the burden of shelter services from churches with volunteers, each sharing the load one or two nights per week, to motel rooms.
"We've made a significant improvement in terms of not only the range of types of sheltering we offer, but the demographics that it covers, " Schimmel said. "Typically, in years past, winter shelters have been exclusively for single adults, largely males. Now there is more accessibility to safe and private sheltering for families, for women and even for unaccompanied youth."
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