Salem motel could become home for unhoused people under new program

The sign at The ARCHES Project. (Anthony McGuire/Special to Salem Reporter)

More than 100 people could be taken off the streets once a Salem motel is turned into a shelter under a new program offered by the state.

The Mid-Willamette Valley Community Action Agency is acquiring a motel with plans to open in the fall. It has 80 rooms, many of which will be able to accommodate multiple people.

Those prioritized for housing in the shelter would include those displaced by last year’s wildfires in the Santiam Canyon. It will also serve people who are experiencing homelessness in Salem.

Ashley Hamilton, ARCHES program director, said her agency has secured two years of funding for operations. The first year will be paid for with federal Covid relief funding and the second through Federal Emergency Management Agency reimbursements from the Covid motel program.

It will cost $5.95 million to purchase the motel, with the bulk of the funding coming from Project Turnkey pending approval from the Oregon Community Foundation.

The Oregon Legislature allocated $65 million for that program to acquire distressed motels or hotels for use as non-congregate shelter for people experiencing homelessness or at risk of homelessness.

Center for Hope and Safety, a social services nonprofit which serves victims of domestic violence, was the other grant winner in the Salem area.

Hamilton said it will serve three groups: people who had a home that was burned in the Santiam Canyon wildfires, those who were unsheltered in the canyon, whether camping or living in an RV without utilities, and unsheltered people in Salem.

“The priority is wildfire. As the wildfire households stabilize and access traditional recovery services the project will evolve to eventually become an unsheltered opportunity,” she said.

She said once the program is in full swing there’s a sizable amount of people that could stay at the motel.

Hamilton said at any given time there are 150 people camping in Wallace Marine Park, an amount that could fit in the motel.

“The visual impact and systems impact is going to be present,” she said.

Jimmy Jones, executive director, said right now, the agency is spending $11,900 a night for 140 rooms for its Covid motel program, which amounts to about $3 million over two and a half months.

The first year operating the yet-to-be-named motel project is expected to cost $1.2 million.

Jones said under the current model that amount of money would pay for 14,117 bed nights, versus 29,200 under the proposed motel program.

The Covid motel program, which placed medically vulnerable people in hotels, is winding down and ends on June 15.

Hamilton said about a dozen households impacted by the wildfires will stay in hotels until the Project Turnkey site can open.

She said she was initially looking at motels with 40 rooms when searching for a Project Turnkey site last year. Now the current site she’s looking at is double what she initially expected.

“When the right space falls in your lap you take it,” she said. “It’s about what it can actually do for the community.”

Clarification: This article was updated to reflect the project’s pending approval from the Oregon Community Foundation.

Contact reporter Saphara Harrell at 503-549-6250, [email protected]

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