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Catholic Community Services looks at renovating currently vacant hall into 12 private family units

PATRICK EVANS - CCS hopes to convert Bernard Hall, which is currently vacant, into 12 private units for families at St. Joseph Shelter.The owner of the St. Joseph Shelter in Mount Angel, Catholic Community Services, is proposing some significant changes to the shelter, including building affordable housing and moving the shelter to Bernard Hall.

St. Joseph Shelter is the only homeless shelter in northern Marion County and provides housing for up to 15 families at a time. The Benedictine Sisters of Mount Angel ran St. Joseph Shelter since 1988, but handed over the reins to CCS because the community is aging and there are fewer women choosing to enter the religious service. CCS was contracted by the Benedictine Sisters to run St. Joseph in 2016 and managed the shelter for 18 months. Now the Sisters have turned over ownership of the shelter as well as six acres of land for development to CCS.

The relationship between CCS and the Sisters seemed to click while CCS was under contract, said CCS Executive Director Jim Seymour.

"We eventually came to the agreement that they would donate the land to us, and our commitment was to fundraise to keep the shelter open," Seymour said.

PATRICK EVANS - The rooms at St. Joseph Shelter are converted from college dorms. They might be a bit cramped but a private sleeping space makes a big difference to families who have been living in cars or on the street, said Catholic Community Services executive director Jim Seymour.St. Joseph Shelter includes Mission Benedict, a food, clothing and household goods bank, and the Casa Adele housing for migrant farmworkers. Currently St. Joseph Shelter has had to vacate its family residents for some minor renovations, mostly painting, which will be complete soon.

The renovation does include one major change: installation of four or five cooking stations in the shelter's cafeteria. Seymour said that the cooking stations would be similar to the setup inside a home economics classroom and will provide a space for kids to learn to cook and for families to prepare fresh meals.

"A lot of our families are not used to having fresh food to cook," Seymour said. "They are used to shopping out of convenience stores, and eating Top Ramen and canned food."

Mission Benedict will continue to operate out of the shelter basement. The food bank is set up like a supermarket, which allows families to pick food that they want to prepare off shelves rather than being arbitrarily given boxes of food that they might not eat. The food bank serves 700 to 1,000 children and adults each month, Seymour said, and also offers clothes, diapers and laundry services.

Major changes, Seymour said, include a couple different proposals for creating affordable housing and moving shelter housing from dorms to individual units in the unused Bernard Hall next door. Bernard Hall was formerly a single male farmworker housing, but was closed due to lack of use and deferred maintenance.

Seymour said that moving families to their own units in Bernard Hall would both provide more room and privacy for families, as well as helping cut costs for CCS. Families moved into Bernard Hall would have their own bathrooms and showers, and would be able to lock their doors at night so that CCS would no longer need 24-hour staff. The staff reduction could save CCS around $60,000.

CCS has two proposals for creating owner occupied housing on the shelter property, Seymour said. The first more affordable option would be converting the St. Joseph Shelter building into condominiums.

"We can raise money to do the work, and get people into a unit for a couple hundred thousand, with low interest and a low down payment," Seymour said.

The second option would be to tear down the St. Joseph Shelter and put up individual houses.

Either way Seymour said the goal is to help residents save enough money to buy housing and begin building equity.

The proposals will be vetted in the community before CCS reaches a decision sometime this fall.

Patrick Evans

Reporter

503-765-1195

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