State, county funds for navigation center to go before city council Monday

The future site of Salem’s navigation center, now a vacant building located at 1185 22nd St. S.E. (Saphara Harrell/Salem Reporter)

Salem may have a navigation center built by year’s end that would help move homeless people into permanent housing after the city received millions to close a funding gap. 

Councilors will vote Monday on accepting two grants from the state and Marion County totaling about $5 million to remodel a city-owned building at 1185 22nd St. S.E. for the long-awaited project.

Construction is expected to be completed in November or December. Gretchen Bennett, the Salem’s homelessness liaison, said Monday that city officials haven’t determined when the navigation center will start operating. 

“Once the construction begins, we’re going to start hiring for it almost immediately so that once we do have a final clearance to occupy and use, we will be staffed up and ready to go,” said Jimmy Jones, executive director of the Mid-Willamette Valley Community Action Agency.

Jones’ agency still needs to sign a contract with the city for the navigation center.

He said the Salem area has previously offered limited options for low-barrier shelter, where sobriety isn’t a requirement and people can bring pets and stay in couples, but people living there are expected to follow rules. The navigation center, he said, would also have staff on site providing daily mental health and substance abuse treatment.

When opened, the facility is intended to operate as a short-term shelter for 35 to 40 people where they can stabilize for two to four months until they transition into housing. It would be open 24 hours a day to help people with other more immediate, basic needs like toilets or potable water.

City and county officials floated the idea for years before funding allocated last year from the Oregon Legislature and the city’s share of federal Covid relief pushed the navigation center ahead.

The state legislature allocated $5 million in May 2021 to fund two years of the center’s operations. The city in June 2020 used federal money to buy a vacant building for $2.75 million, and pay for property taxes and site improvements. The building served as a warming center last winter.

But there were millions more needed to cover additional costs that increased due to fire and safety standards for sheltering, rising construction costs and supply chain issues, according to a city staff report provided to the Salem City Council in December.

The state Legislature in March allocated another $1.9 million to the city for remodeling the building to help close the gap. 

On June 1, the Marion County Board of Commissioners 1 approved $3 million in federal pandemic relief money for the renovation.

“I really appreciate the county in particular stepping forward. They really have not previously funded direct service for the unsheltered population,” Jones said. “So this is a major positive step, I think, for the community.”

The building, now in disrepair, previously housed a state Department of Human Services office.

The grants will fund adding fire sprinkler and alarm systems, a kitchen, a bathroom and shower facilities. The renovations would also include building a wall to separate day and evening spaces, space to manage pest control, a back-up generator and reconfiguring office areas to provide on-site mental health services. All the grant funds would be spent during the renovation, the agenda said.

Jones said the navigation center is intended to reduce barriers and impacts of trauma for homeless people by ensuring they are eating regular meals, sleeping regular hours and getting any documents they need to move on to their next stage. 

He hopes the center will work along with programs such as the city’s Homeless Rental Assistance Program, which typically pays for up to a year of housing for chronically homeless people in private rentals and pairs them with caseworkers.

“The goal is to reduce the number of unsheltered people in the community, and to do that we won’t need to just fill up the navigation center,” he said. “It needs to be a revolving door of getting people out of the navigation center once they’re in there, and into a permanent housing situation.”


County commissioners consider spending $3 million on navigation center

Funding shortfall to construct navigation center will be Salem’s priority for 2022 short session

Navigation center for Salem homeless could open this winter

Contact reporter Ardeshir Tabrizian: [email protected] or 503-929-3053.

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