Former hotel turned homeless shelter will house nearly 100 by summer

A former Northeast Salem hotel will reopen next month as an emergency shelter where people can begin transitioning out of homelessness, thanks to millions of state dollars.

Wednesday afternoon, the Mid-Willamette Valley Community Action Agency bought the Capital Inn & Suites, 1875 Fisher Rd. N.E., for $7.56 million, according to Jimmy Jones, the nonprofit’s executive director.

Jones said the 74-room shelter will start taking people in “on a limited basis” in April and fully open by summer, housing nearly 100 people at a time.

Costs are covered in part with $3.56 million from Project Turnkey, a $74.7 million allocation of funding from the Legislature to buy hotels or motels to use as shelters in the short term, and more permanent housing in the long term.

The new shelter, called the ARCHES Lodge, also received $2 million from Oregon Housing Community Services Department and another $2 million from the state Department of Human Services, according to Jones.

The state human services agency provided an additional $2.2 million grant to cover two years of the shelter’s operations.

The new shelter comes over a year after Jones’ agency turned the former Super 8 building into the ARCHES Inn, an emergency shelter on Northeast Hawthorne Avenue where up to 100 people can stay at a time. It sheltered 69 households in 2022, many of whom were wildfire survivors who stayed there for longer periods of time.

Jones said the addition of the second shelter, as well as a homeless navigation center expected to open in April or May, could come close to getting off the street a quarter of the roughly 1,000 homeless people in Salem.

“There will be 225, low-barrier beds for the community that we didn’t have two years ago,” Jones said. “We’re really kind of excited that we can make a meaningful impact here, and it’s been a really intractable problem.”

The ARCHES Lodge will operate as a 90-day low barrier shelter. Jones said people who stay at the shelter won’t undergo drug testing and entry is allowed no matter the sobriety level, but alcohol and drug use is not allowed on the premises. Pets are also allowed.

Residents will have access to the same services available at the ARCHES Inn, including individual case management, employment services, getting connected to behavioral health and substance abuse treatment, and getting on housing wait lists.

The 90-day deadline isn’t a hard one, but Jones said the idea is to move people out quickly into permanent housing elsewhere in the community.

His agency applied for the Project Turnkey funding last year through a competitive grant process overseen by the Oregon Community Foundation. 

“Then it was just a process of seeing what other state agencies might have some money to invest in this,” Jones said. “Everybody across the state knows that we have a really acute need here in Salem, so when there are funds available to invest in things like this, it’s a good opportunity to create high return on investment for the state.”

Community Action’s Project Turkey funding was one of three grants the foundation announced on Monday, March 13.

“What’s so important about each of their projects is the way they focus on the unmet need of our most vulnerable neighbors caught up in this crisis. Families with children, medically fragile individuals, survivors of domestic violence, communities of color, and veterans all have specific needs, and these organizations have the experience, expertise, and partnerships to meet them,” said Megan Loeb, the foundation’s senior program officer for economic vitality and housing, in a press release.

Community Action bought its first motel property in 2021 for $5.95 million, most of which came from Project Turnkey. 

The cost of motels across the state has since skyrocketed due to inflation. Jones said it’s a mounting challenge for service providers seeking to make more homeless shelters available in Salem, where there are a limited number of properties that “fit the profile to do this work.”

Jones said as his agency has grown, it has gotten closer to a state waiver that would allow much of its sheltering services to be reimbursed through Medicaid. 

“Our homeless population is aging, and it’s very, very sick,” Jones said. “They’re going to die 20 years faster than the rest of the population is dying – of all the same things, the rest of us are dying from, just much faster.”

“We’ve really been focused on trying to keep people alive and provide dignity for folks through these last few years,” he said. “If we can’t house our way out of this crisis, even as expensive as it is, sheltering does keep people safe, it does protect really deteriorating health conditions and things of that nature, so it’s really vital that work be done.”

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

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Ardeshir Tabrizian has covered criminal justice and housing for Salem Reporter since September 2021. As an Oregon native, his award-winning watchdog journalism has traversed the state. He has done reporting for The Oregonian, Eugene Weekly and Malheur Enterprise.