Sisters group seeks funding for shelter
Last updated 5/30/2023 at 9:36am
The amount of funding for combating homelessness in Central Oregon has grown to nearly $35 million with the recent addition of $13.9 million provided to Deschutes, Crook, and Jefferson counties. The newest tranche of money comes from the $98 million pot enacted by Senate Bill 5019 that gives sole authority of the funds’ disbursement to Gov. Tina Kotek.
It’s in response to what Kotek calls a “Homeless State of Emergency.” COIC (Central Oregon Intergovernmental Council) will manage and distribute the funds, which must be spent by January 10. COIC is among nearly a dozen agencies and organizations with a hand in trying to change the dynamics for the region’s unsheltered population.
In addition, some two dozen providers, the front- line workers in the fight, have varying degrees of influence and resources. Smaller ones, like the Sisters Cold Weather Shelter (SCWS) hope this new influx of cash will allow them to move from advocacy to actual sheltering. Since 2018 the group has worked to provide temporary shelter during the coldest winter months.
They were initially supported primarily by local churches, who took turns in allowing their facilities to be used as respite from the cold and dispensing of a hot meal. The onset of COVID-19 saw a pullback from the churches and local business support.
Now, with SB 5019 funds on hand, a handful of homeless advocates in Sisters, loosely confederated under an ad hoc Sisters Community Leadership Initiative, has tapped Cold Weather Shelter to apply for $1,458,578 of the $13.9 million pool. SCWS is the only legally constituted group in Sisters eligible for a share.
As a 501c3 not-for-profit, they meet the criteria to be awarded a grant. They are competing with 18 others whose applications had to be submitted by May 8.
COIC handed off the screening and awarding to another group — MAC (Multi-Agency Coordination Group). The 24-member group is made up of service providers and local governments. On May 17 MAC approved seven applications, denied one, and sent 11 back to the applicants with questions. Sisters Cold Weather Shelter’s application is among those from whom MAC is seeking more information.
There were so many layers to the homeless bureaucracy that Deschutes County set up Coordinated Houseless Response Office in coordination with the cities of Sisters, Bend, and La Pine. Funding for this effort came from another piece of legislation, House Bill 4123.
A manager, Cheyenne Purrington, was hired last September to fill the $149,000 per year position. Amid controversy over her background in Lake Tahoe, Purrington resigned last week.
Last year’s HB4123 enactment calls for initiatives supporting shelter capacity, promoting workforce expansion, identifying solutions for current homeless encampments, and helping to develop housing units for low-income residents.
Commissioner Phil Chang said in early May that the response office is disorganized, and thus not making much progress. “We need to look at the entire system, the staff, the governing board, and the advisory committee, and ask why we haven’t come up with a functioning organization yet,?” Chang told local media.
One of his criticisms revolves around the bill’s requirement that it produce a five-year strategic plan within a year of receiving the granted funds.
“I am very concerned that the strategic plan has not been developed yet,” Chang told The Nugget.
Chang appears to speak for a number of citizens who see large amounts of monies, in the hundreds of millions, appropriated to fight homelessness with negligible results. HB 4123 doles out $8 million in eight $1 million tranches to eight counties including Deschutes. It’s primarily seed money to set up the apparatus to manage the growing problem and administer new funds coming into the pipeline.
Sitting on the Board of Governing Directors for the response effort is Commissioner Patti Adair of Sisters Country, representing the County, and Sisters Councilor Andrea Blum, representing the City of Sisters.
In the current session two house bills passed and were signed into law by Governor Kotek amounting to $200 million, bringing to $400 million the total in state spending authorizations for defeating the houseless crisis, a signature issue for Kotek.
The $13.9 million emergency funding is intended to create 111 new shelter beds and rehouse 161 households from unsheltered homelessness in the tri-county area. It is in keeping with these goals that Sisters Cold Weather Shelter formulated their application.
Were it to be awarded, SCWS will acquire a building in Sisters for $950,000 for 12-24 beds and an office. They would also lease four apartment units, two two-bedroom and two one-bedroom, under a three-year master lease. These units would go to the neediest homeless, among them the nine known children enrolled in Sisters schools who have no housing.
Included in the application is $181,000 in salaries, half of which would come from other sources. Positions to be funded include an executive director, non-certified case manager, coordinator, and nighttime shelter monitor.
MAC is asking SCWS: “Can you really do everything proposed with that amount? Could you turn master leased units into rehousing rather than shelter?”
Grant applications are to be approved and the funds distributed by the end of June.